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Originally published Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Microsoft releases Vista SP1

Microsoft reached an important milestone Tuesday with the release of the first service pack for Windows Vista, its flagship product. The software update includes...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft reached an important milestone Tuesday with the release of the first service pack for Windows Vista, its flagship product.

The software update includes security fixes and other patches Microsoft made between Vista's launch Jan. 30, 2007, and the end of last year.

Computer users who keep their machines updated should have received many, but not all, of the fixes as they became available.

Releasing the package of updates together carries a psychological weight that could spur broader adoption of Vista.

"Microsoft has trained us not to take a new version of an operating system until the first service pack," said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Kirkland-based Directions on Microsoft. "Now that that's gone by, people [are not] suddenly going to love Windows, but any reluctance they had because the code was too new and too untested should go away."

Vista Service Pack 1 — SP1 for short — bears little resemblance to the major overhaul Microsoft gave Windows XP, its previous operating system. Service Pack 2 for XP, released in August 2004, addressed the weak security of the operating system and distracted Microsoft from work on Vista, contributing to that product's late arrival.

Vista SP1 has improved file-copy times on Cherry's machine. There are also some subtle changes to desktop search, drive encryption and the reduced functionality mode that Vista imposes on PCs found to be running non-genuine software (most functions are now retained).

SP1, already released to businesses and IT professionals, will be available to consumers through several means in the coming weeks.

As of Tuesday, the update can be downloaded from Microsoft's Windows Update service. Not everyone will be able to get the software right away, however, and Microsoft is recommending this option for more sophisticated PC users.

While Microsoft has made progress in including more drivers that run printers, digital cameras and other devices, compatibility for some devices regressed with test versions of SP1. In fact, Microsoft delayed releasing SP1 to the public because of these issues, Nick White, a Microsoft product manager, wrote on the company's Windows Vista blog.

"Windows Update will detect drivers that we know may be problematic when updating to SP1 and will not offer the service pack until an update has been installed," White wrote. He added that Microsoft has identified "a small number of device drivers that may be problematic after an update from Windows Vista to Windows Vista SP1," and is working with device vendors to get driver updates.

Also, SP1 is available only in English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese. People running Vista in one of 31 other languages have to wait until mid-April.

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David Zipkin, a Microsoft senior product manager, said the average PC user already running Vista and "who doesn't want to be overly involved in the maintenance of their PC" should wait until mid-April, when Microsoft will start pushing SP1 out over Windows Update.

Users have to configure their machines for automatic updating in this case. SP1 will download automatically, but the user will have to install it, a process that takes roughly an hour.

For people who want to install Vista on an existing Windows XP computer, Amazon.com has Vista SP1 on sale now. Other retailers will put the software on shelves at their own pace between now and April, Zipkin said.

New PCs with Vista SP1 installed will be available in early April or sooner, he said. PC manufacturers have had access to the code since early February, and it's up to them to build and market new machines with the updated software.

Zipkin said people who buy a Vista PC now and then install SP1 via Windows Update will get the same outcome as those who wait and buy a PC with SP1 already on board.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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