The Windows team's work is never done; after a short holiday ("They're allowed to take a break," commented Steven Sinofsky when we spoke to him last year), work continued on Windows 8 and there has been a steady stream of updates and hotfixes for Windows 7. But what about Windows 7 Service Pack 1?
There are rumours of build strings and registry keys in updates that might refer to SP1, and even alleged screenshots of an installer but when we asked Windows product manager Chris Flores he mostly said that Microsoft "isn't commenting on Windows 7 SP1 yet".
More interestingly, he added that first, there's very little that a service pack would need to address. "The overall quality of Windows 7 is solid, devices are being found, people are happy. Our product support call volumes are incredibly low.We've been extraordinarily happy with the stability of Windows 7 and all of the health metrics. We've been just blown away with the reception. The product is very solid."
And second, when a service pack does come along, Flores says you'll hardly notice it; Windows Updates means service packs simply aren't that big a deal any more.
"Take, for instance, Windows Vista SP1; if you were somebody that was on automatic update, we'd been trickling out updates to you all along and so for most people that have had automatic updates turned on SP1 was almost a non-event for them. We can continually improve Windows over time just with the update technology we currently have."
Windows XP SP1 was almost a new version of Windows and SP1 of Vista did address network speed problems (introduced when Microsoft tried to speed up connections to newer versions of Windows Server at the expense of every other kind of networked file connection).
What will be in Windows 7 SP1?
Windows 7 has no significant problems for SP1 to address, so what might a service pack include beyond all the updates you could already have got month by month?
The Wi-Fi virtualisation that underpins Intel's new Wi-Fi video streaming to TVs is already in Windows 7 (what the new notebooks have is faster CPUs to stream the video and a button to simplify connecting). Intel's Lightpeak connection isn't likely to be ready in time and phase-change memory will barely arrive in time for Windows 8.
Microsoft did commit to adding built-in support for SuperSpeed USB in "a post-Windows 7 deliverable" so you don't have to install specific drivers from the manufacturer when you plug in a USB 3.0 device. We expect to see that in SP1, but as Flores points out, these kind of improvements are much more likely to come out as updates first.
Windows 7 SP1 will be for people who don't use automatic updates, and for OEMs to put on new machines to save users the time it takes to install updates when they first turn on their new PC.
Windows 7 SP1 a signal to business?
But even if there's nothing significant in the service pack, isn't SP1 the signal to businesses that it's time to upgrade to the new version of Windows?
Not this time around, says Flores. "Forester just produced a big report where they surveyed most of their enterprise customers and two thirds of them said yes, we fully expect to migrate to Windows 7, which led Forrester to the conclusion that they expect Windows 7 to be the new business standard within 12 months."
HP vice president Phil McKinney agrees with that and says his enterprise customers aren't waiting for any service pack.
"The CIOs I'm talking to are all really ramping up their Windows 7 plans. They were taking a back seat, they were interested doing some testing – but now it's out and they're seeing the feedback from the consumer market… Any time an OS happens, you get an immediate backlash – but with Windows 7 you don't see that. Their confidence level is up and we'll see an acceleration of migration."
With that kind of reception, there's no need for Microsoft to rush out a service pack. With the three year schedule Microsoft is sticking to for Windows, you could see a Windows 7 SP1 release date any time from 12 to 18 months after launch, and without an incentive to push it out quickly it's unlikely to be available to end users much before autumn 2010.
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