Jon DeVaan is senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Core Operating System Division. In this abridged version of an official Microsoft Q+A, he talks about the arrival of the first Service Pack for Windows Vista, due in early 2008. Microsoft is making a beta available to more than 10,000 people in the next few weeks.

There has been a lot of speculation around the first service pack for Windows Vista. When will it ship, and why are you just now sharing information on Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1)?

DeVaan: As for the speculation, I think it's the result of us erring on the side of being more careful about when we communicate release information. Based on what customers and partners have told us, we know that providing timely guidance on release plans is important, but that it's equally important for us to provide more accurate guidance that they can be confident in as they build their own plans.

For Windows Vista SP1, that's meant waiting until we had a higher-level of certainty in our plan, including what was going into it and when we could reasonably expect to meet the quality bar, to share information broadly. Finding the right balance between communicating earlier and more often versus later and more precisely is something we'll continue to refine by listening to our customers.

Isn't that a long time between Windows Vista RTM (or "gold code") and the release of the first service pack, at least compared with past versions of Windows?

DeVaan: It will be a little longer than it was for Windows 2000 or Windows XP. But when you look at all the other methods we have outside of the service pack itself to service Windows, I think it's fair to say that we're actually getting fixes, improvements and updates into the hands of customers faster than ever before.

In fact, the use of the term "gold code" is somewhat of an anachronism in an environment where we have product feedback mechanisms available to us that help us continuously identify and diagnose real-world software issues and the update mechanisms in place to regularly deliver fixes for those issues to hundreds of millions of customers. We think, like most major software projects, Windows Vista was designed to improve continuously from the time it is purchased.

How do you know and decide what gets fixed for a service pack?

DeVaan: We are constantly monitoring the quality of users' experiences through Windows Vista's built-in, automated feedback systems, such as the Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) and Windows Error Reporting (WER). These are systems that customers anonymously and privately participate in via an explicit opt-in choice. Through the data we get back, we can identify, diagnose and then repair the most detrimental and prevalent problems users encounter.

For example, when consumers see a "Device Not Found" message or the systems report back that a device failed to install, we can prioritise getting the needed drivers available on Windows Update or up on the hardware vendor's website.

As a result, our driver coverage went from 1.4 million in January to more than 2.2 million today. We also work directly with our partners to improve overall driver quality. We are able to see which drivers are causing system crashes or contributing to hangs and other performance problems, and then work across the ecosystem to bring solutions to market via Windows Update.

So what changes should we expect to see in Windows Vista SP1?

DeVaan: I should start by saying that one thing people shouldn't expect to see is new features, although some existing components and features will be enhanced. For example, we've added support in BitLocker Drive Encryption for encrypting multiple volumes on the PC. And we've improved printer management by simplifying printing to a local printer from within a Terminal Server session. Service packs typically are not vehicles for new features, and the same will be true with Windows Vista SP1.