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(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
If you're a Windows Vista user, you're in for an old-fashioned treat you probably thought you'd never get to see again: A Service Pack!
Contrary to what was envisioned when Vista was first released - that improvements and security fixes (not that the most secure operating system ever released, as per http://tinyurl.com/ktw4c, would ever need them) - were to be taken care of incrementally by Windows Update.
Instead of having to download multi-gigabyte files to keep your OS up to date, as had been the case with Windows XP, Vista was supposed to dispense with the idea of a service pack, rolling up new fixes along with many of the recent ones that users may have missed - like with Mac OS X, whose users could, if they wanted, download a general security and software update. But few do, and instead rely on the Software Update mechanism, which keeps things fresh and clean, checking in with Apple servers once a week.
The question is, why the seeming reversal of policy? Vista was supposed to be a totally different experience from anything Windows users have had before. For many it is, but not in the way they expected (more about that later).
It seems, in fact, that Vista has not worked out for Microsoft in a number of ways - one of them being the operating system's popularity, or rather lack of it (http://tinyurl.com/2rngoz). If Microsoft expected a rush of upgrades on older hardware, the company has probably been somewhat disappointed this past year, as the first week upgrade sales ("boxed sales") of Vista were significantly lower than the corresponding sales when XP was first available (http://tinyurl.com/yv2qoq). Of course, all new PCs being sold at this point by major distributors and large retail chains have Vista pre-installed, but six months after it was released, according to this article (http://tinyurl.com/ytffg2), Windows sales have trailed off after the initial hype, with 20 million copies having been sold the first month, and only 40 million sold in subsequent months.
That less than stellar performance, according to some doyens, is exactly the reason Microsoft has decided to release a Vista service pack. Users of Windows operating systems going back to Windows NT, and following on to Windows 2000 and XP, have learned the hard way that the initial OS release is often just this side of a beta - with the "real" OS coming out with the service pack (http://tinyurl.com/2nnh76). It's not just MS, by the way; every software manufacturer and operating system maker (whether Apple or the variegated Linuxes) gets slammed for their initial releases, with customer complaints going to form the next update/service pack, at least to some extent.
It is thought among many Microsoft officials, according to a slew of Web sites (http://tinyurl.com/2lja9h) that Vista's soft sales numbers are due, at least in part, to this traditional animus to 1.0 anything - especially Windows. Whether it's true or not (and in the case of Vista, Microsoft has consistently said that it is not), users - especially corporate users - are said to be wary of upgrading before the first major set of fixes comes out, the better to avoid being caught by a bug (or feature) that will bring business to a grinding halt. In the case of Vista, the main problems are the difficulty of running it on legacy hardware (you'd really want a dual-core processor and at least 2 GB of RAM, specs that just weren't available to the majority of users, personal or business, until very recently), and the incompatibility of third-party hardware (specifically, drivers that don't work properly). There are going to be over 100 fixes in SP1 (http://www.vistasp1.net), including some that will address driver issues - and the hope is that business users will feel more comfortable moving onto Vista once it's "gone through its paces" by having a service pack applied to it.
Then again, the problem could be completely different. According to http://tinyurl.com/yte8mw, MS is releasing SP1 in large part to avoid anti-trust problems due to Vista's embedded Instant Search, which many states - apparently egged on by Google, of all people - feel should be subject to the same strictures as other MS software that has been accused of "cornering" the market, which the US Department of Justice has accused the company of doing with Media Player. In order to avoid trouble, according to this version, Microsoft has decided to retool Vista and reposition Instant Search - hence the need for a service pack.
This theory, however, does not explain why Vista isn't moving like the hotcakes MS thought it would - while the "not ready for prime time until a service pack comes out" theory does. But while it sounds like sound marketing theory, I personally don't think it's going to make much of a difference.
Vista is a fine OS - if you've got the hardware for it, which most don't. And that's the problem. As long as users, private or small business, don't buy new hardware that has Vista preinstalled, they aren't going to go out and buy an upgrade copy of Vista (even corporate users are queasy about upgrading). All it takes is a quick search of user forums to see just how dissatisfied many of those who have upgraded are. Many, in fact, wish they could roll back the clock, get rid of Vista and return to good old XP!
Well, now you can! Actually, you could have from the beginning but, probably, no one bothered to tell you (Microsoft, which really, really wants you to use Vista, certainly didn't, at least directly and personally). And while it takes a bit of searching, the instructions are right there on the Microsoft Web site, at http://tinyurl.com/2z6fy2.
When you install a Vista upgrade (just like when you install a service pack upgrade, in fact), the system automatically saves your old operating system version - just in case something goes wrong. In the case of the Vista upgrade, it renames your old Windows directory, the backup directory is called "Windows.OLD" (I hope you didn't throw it away!). The restoration process is a bit obtuse, with lots of forward and backward slashes (I would make a backup of Windows.OLD, just in case) - but it can be done. And then you, too, can be among those who sit and await the arrival of Vista service pack 1 - to decide whether it's worthwhile to re-upgrade.