As Windows watchdog sites worldwide are displaying screen shots of leaked early builds of Windows Vista's first service pack, Microsoft today announced that a true beta of Vista SP1 will go to a limited audience of testers "in a few weeks," with full deployment planned for the first quarter of 2008.
Microsoft also announced a similar release timetable for Windows XP SP3, the only difference being that XP SP3's ship date is listed as the first half of 2008 (suggesting it might appear later than Vista SP1).
A Microsoft spokesperson noted that new Windows Updates for Vista released yesterday were unrelated to SP1. You can read more about the new updates on Microsoft's Windows Update site.
A Major Milestone
The arrival of an initial service pack is generally an important milestone for a Windows release. Many companies won't deploy a new version of Windows until SP1 addresses problems that early adopters experience.
Like all service packs, Vista SP1 will include a number of security, reliability, performance, and compatibility improvements, including all that have already been released via Windows Update. Additionally, Microsoft says, the service pack will improve some administrative features and add support for new hardware and emerging standards.
Installing SP1 will require 7GB of free space when it finally ships early next year, though you'll reclaim most of that space after installation. Most individual users will receive the service pack as a 50MB download via Windows Update.
Corporate users who want support for all editions of Vista, in all languages and with all previous updates, can opt for a stand-alone version, which will be a 1GB package for x86 versions and 1.5GB for x64 versions. Microsoft noted that because SP1 makes significant changes to the operating system, it cannot be applied to offline images of the OS that corporate IT pros typically create to deploy the OS.
Although the initial beta program is closed, Microsoft says it may expand it later. Those interested in participating in the SP1 beta program, should it expand, can apply at Microsoft's Windows beta site.
Improving the Basics
Vista's first service pack includes fixes for common issues related to newer graphics boards, laptops using external displays, certain networking configurations, systems that were upgraded from Windows XP, some printer drivers, and operation of sleep mode.
Another group of improvements are designed to make it easier for developers of third-party security and antivirus applications to work with 64-bit versions of Windows Vista. Another security-related change will allow Remote Desktop Protocol files to be signed.
BitLocker Drive Encryption, a security feature primarily intended for corporate machines with a Trusted Platform Module (security hardware), has been enhanced to support authentication via a combination of hardware (a USB storage device that holds a startup key) and a user-generated PIN.