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Microsoft promises less-annoying Vista OS early next year

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A less-annoying version of Windows Vista is still several months away.

This morning, with a post to the official Windows Vista blog, Microsoft said that the first Vista Service Pack will likely arrive at the beginning of the year, after the usual far-flung beta test. As SP1 betas continue to turn up on file-sharing sites across the web, the company will roll out an official beta "in the next few weeks," hoping to iron out more than a few kinks in the little-used operating system.

"In addition to updates we’ve previously released, SP1 will contain changes focused on addressing specific reliability and performance issues we’ve identified via customer feedback, supporting new types of hardware, and adding support for several emerging standards," wrote Vista product manager Nick White.

White also said that the update will make "additional improvements to the IT administration experience." But he was adamant - thank goodness - that SP1 would not introduce brand new tools: "We didn't design SP1 as a vehicle for releasing new features; however, some existing components do gain enhanced functionality in SP1."

The official SP1 ship date will depend on how well the beta test goes. "We're targeting releasing SP1 to manufacturing in the first quarter of 2008," White said, "but as always, we're first and foremost focused on delivering a high-quality release, so we'll determine the exact release date of SP1 after we have reached that quality bar."

Of course, Redmond sees no reason for computer users to continue using Windows XP as the company prepares a more reliable version of Vista. "Microsoft encourages organizations not to wait for SP1 but instead [to] deploy Windows Vista today in order to benefit from improved security, management, and deployment benefits," the company told us in a canned statement, after rejecting our request for an interview.

Nonetheless, it seems well aware that most of us will continue to avoid Vista like the plague. Today, the company also announced that a third and final XP Service Pack will arrive by the middle of next year.

"Microsoft will be releasing Windows XP SP3 to customers and partners in the next few weeks and is targeting the first half of 2008 for an RTM release," a spokesman said. "It is a standard practice to release a service pack as a release nears end-of-life for the convenience to our customers and partners. Windows XP SP3 is a roll-up of previously released updates for Windows XP including security updates, out-of-band releases, and hotfixes. It will also contain a small number of new updates."

For more details on Vista Service Pack 1, check out Microsoft's beta white paper. Interestingly enough, the beta does not appear to include an update to Vista's desktop search interface, which Microsoft promised last month after a legal complaint from arch-rival Google. "The service pack improves the performance of the desktop shell, but it does not provide a new search user interface or a new version of Windows Media Center," the white paper reads. But Shanen Boettcher, a Windows general manager, told Cnet that this would come later in the beta process.

Naturally, as Vista users wait for SP1, Microsoft will continue to offer OS tweaks through Windows Update. "Service packs are part of our traditional software life-cycle; they're something we do for most major products as a commitment to continuous improvement," White wrote. "But, the servicing situation has changed with the advent of Windows Vista, as we no longer rely solely on service packs as the main vehicle used to deploy system fixes and improvements." ®

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