It must have been one of the worst-kept secrets in the history of Microsoft product rollouts.
As expected, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced Tuesday that it has released Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) for download by consumers with Vista. Previously, SP1 had been made available only to MSDN (Microsoft Developers Network) subscribers.
"Today, you can now download Windows Vista SP1 via Windows Update," said Nick White, Vista's product manager, in a posting on Microsoft's Windows Vista Team Blog. "If you want to get the benefit of a year's worth of improvements right now, go check Windows Update."
Getting SP1 requires Vista users to manually choose to install the Service Pack by running Windows Update. Otherwise, they must wait until mid-April, when Microsoft will begin distributing the patch automatically to Vista PCs.
Not every Vista user is eligible, however. The Service Pack is now available in five languages -- English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese. Users of systems with other languages installed will have to wait as well.
SP1 is the long-awaited update to the original Vista release, which became available to consumers in Jan. 2007. It includes all of the bug fixes that have been developed for Vista since launch, along with performance improvements and two new features.
One removes Windows Genuine Advantage's oft-derided "kill switch," which downgrades performance of systems running Windows versions that the technology identifies as having been pirated. The other makes changes to Vista's search defaults, so that users can choose to use a third-party search vendor -- specifically, Google -- as their primary desktop search engine.
The update has been hotly anticipated in part because conventional wisdom has it that most enterprises hold off on deploying new editions of Windows until the release's first Service Pack, which ensures a more stable product.
As a result, SP1's widespread debut could mark the kick-off for enterprises to begin moving forward with large-scale testing and broad deployments of the operating system.
Microsoft has been saying for weeks that Vista SP1 would be available for manual download by "mid-March" but had tried to hold the exact date close to its chest.
However, retail partner last week spoiled any lingering surprise value such an announcement might have had.
The retailer posted on its Web site that customers who bought Vista -- sans SP1 -- would be able to download the service pack beginning today.
Further, a Malaysian Web site -- claimed to have obtained an official Microsoft shipping schedule. According to the site, the schedule indicated today would be the day manual downloads begin.
The site also said Microsoft had set an April 18 date for SP1 to be automatically downloaded to users' PCs.
Microsoft has not yet confirmed any date for automatic rollout.
In his posting today, White also provided some installation instructions for users -- as well as caveats regarding SP1 compatibility.
White said some programs that don't function properly with SP1, and described some "problematic" device drivers. These include audio drivers from SigmaTel, Realtek and Creative Labs, and applications including Symantec Endpoint Protection.
Consequently, Windows Update will avoid offering the update to users of any systems with drivers known to pose problems with SP1, he said.
However, most users who don't get SP1 offered to them via Windows Update also have the option of going to the Microsoft Download Center for a standalone installer.
He also said Microsoft has "largely eliminated" a problem that had delayed the SP1 launch. The problem caused some users' systems to enter an endless cycle of reboots during installation.
White said the glitch occurred "only in certain rare situations" and that Microsoft believes the problem to be mostly resolved.
Because the error appears to be worsened by inclusion in Windows' automatic updates, he added that Microsoft expects to release an additional fix to SP1 before the company begins automatically distributing the Service Pack.