Foley on Microsoft

Will Windows Service Pack History Repeat Itself?

Vista SP2 might be a whole new OS in everything but name only.

One of my editors at Redmond magazine -- the ever-doubting Ed Scannell -- recently posed an interesting hypothetical question about the future of Windows. Might Microsoft yank some features planned for Windows 7 and put them into a Windows Vista Service Pack (SP) 2 that would include not just fixes, but also new features?

In other words: Could Windows history repeat itself, with Vista SP2 taking the form of a whole new operating system release -- in everything other than name -- a la Windows XP SP2?

Microsoft officials said last year not to expect Vista SP1 to be anything like XP SP2. Vista SP1 was designed to be a collection of fixes and patches, aimed at improving security, reliability and performance. But the 'Softies haven't said anything about their thinking in regard to Vista SP2. Might Microsoft use the next Vista SP to deliver some of the features that otherwise might have to wait for Windows 7, currently slated for 2010?

As tasty as that option might sound to some, I'd give it a very low likelihood for a few reasons.

First, Microsoft's public stance is Vista SP1 is now a robust, usable OS.

Windows client team officials have been admitting for the past few months that the initial Vista release wasn't up to snuff, but they're not apologizing for Vista SP1. In fact, the company line is that Vista SP1 is so solid now that Microsoft doesn't need to extend the June 30 date after which PC makers will no longer be allowed to preload XP on new systems.

At the same time, the Windows team is trying its darndest to wean users -- business users particularly -- from looking at new Service Packs as milestone releases around which they should make or break deployment plans. Instead, Microsoft is trying to get users accustomed to Windows Update and Automatic Updates as ways they can receive new, minor features and fixes on a regular basis. As Windows moves forward, the Windows team also is planning on using Windows Live service releases to deliver consumer-focused functionality and features to customers, too.

Remember: When Microsoft decided to turn XP SP2 into a fairly substantial new Windows release, chock-full of new security bits, the company had to pull almost all of its developers and testers working on Vista off that project and reassign them to XP SP2. The result? Vista's ship date slipped. Date slips are not part of the program in the new Windows world order under Senior Vice President Steven Sinofsky.

In short, I just don't see Microsoft pulling an XP SP2 with Windows Vista SP2 -- regardless of how many dings, both justifiable and not, that Vista continues to earn.

All that said, one thing Microsoft could -- and should -- do immediately is convince customers and developers that their input is going to have an impact on Windows 7. Rumor has it that Microsoft is planning to deliver an alpha release of Windows 7 in late October at this year's Professional Developers Conference. While few outsiders have had the chance to see the early Windows 7 Milestone builds, those builds don't provide much of an indication as to what kinds of new features will be baked into Windows 7.

Microsoft users have a lot of good ideas about features they'd like to see in the next Windows. On my blog recently, I've been soliciting feedback on what kinds of user-interface and other deeper system features customers want. Everyday business and consumer customers have tons of good suggestions; everything from adding a trust model to the reviled User Account Control (UAC) prompt-happy mechanism, to delivering features in modular chunks in order to help slim down Windows' system requirements.

Equally notable have been some of the suggestions about how Microsoft could make up for the rugged adjustment period Windows users encountered when initially moving to Vista. Microsoft already put in place a toll-free support line for Vista users. But if Microsoft really believes Vista with SP1 is the cat's meow, why not find a way to offer a money-back guarantee, wondered a couple of Windows users: "If in 60 days, you aren't ready to forever abandon Windows XP, your money back."

And if Vista SP1 is as superior to XP as Microsoft claims, why not extend the OEM pre-load date beyond this month?

What would you like to see Microsoft do on the Windows client front?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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