Vista Service Pack Poses Some Pesky Problems

When Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) released the final version of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) for download this week, many observers were expecting that like the earlier service packs for Windows XP, it would turn out to be a debacle for users.

So far, however, that does not appear to be happening. Although some users have experienced problems with the update, many of the issues are ones that Microsoft warned about how to avoid on its Vista Team Blog site Tuesday.

Microsoft released SP1 for download by volume customers last month, but just made it available for download to consumers earlier this week.

So far, all in all, Microsoft user forums and support sites such as TechNet and Microsoft community news groups, appear to be relatively quiet compared with the fairly widespread troubles that users encountered particularly with XP SP1 but also to some extent with XP SP2. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems, however.

“It’s good news that SP1’s not a disaster, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story,” Roger Kay, president of analysis firm Endpoint Technologies, told InternetNews.com.

What Kay means is that even if the vast majority of the users downloading the service pack aren’t complaining in some of the more obvious public forums, it doesn’t mean that everything’s hunky dory.

For instance, some users ran into a problem they were already warned about – device drivers for some hardware and software that do not work correctly with SP1.

Microsoft posted a list of caveats on its Vista Team Blog on Tuesday.

That includes warnings that the Windows Update SP1 installer would block access to certain device drivers known to clash with the update. The results could range from automatic deletion of non-conforming drivers, thus causing devices such as a handful of audio boards to quit working, to the inability to locate SP1 on the Windows Update site. The reason for the latter point is that in order to avoid problems for users with the bad drivers, the site recognizes those PCs and blocks access to SP1 for now.

The complaints roll in

“When I go to windows update on my laptop to download SP1 it doesn’t find the update,” groused one user on Microsoft’s TechNet forum for Vista SP1.

Besides audio boards from SigmaTel, Realtek, Conexant and Creative Labs, a few other devices with unsupported device drivers are also affected, including two fingerprint scanners, a pair of graphics displays, a smart card controller, and a wireless card.

“I have just spent one to two hours figuring out that I have one of the problem [SigmaTel] drivers hence why windows update isn’t offering me SP1. Neither is it offering me an updated new driver. In my book that is not a good customer experience and a bit of a waste of my time,” complained one user, commenting on the Vista Team Blog.

Other complaints revolve around a pre-requisite patch that Microsoft circulated earlier this year that caused some users’ PCs to get stuck in a constant cycle of reboots during installation of SP1. Microsoft identified the problem and fixed it for most users.

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However, because the error appears to be worsened by inclusion in Windows’ automatic updates, Microsoft plans to release an additional fix to SP1 before the company begins automatically distributing the service pack to Vista users in mid-April. In fact, some users on Microsoft sites this week reported encountering the reboot issue, which may indicate that they have not installed the fixed pre-requisite patch.

Some users also encountered cases where SP1 wouldn’t install because they had unsupported language packs installed on Vista. (Vista SP1 is currently only available for English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese.)

Still others appear to be experiencing problems because they had previously installed release candidate versions of SP1, which need to be uninstalled prior to installing the final service pack code.

Still, not all users are plagued by known issues. Users on Microsoft’s Windows Vista Community site, for example, reported problems after installing SP1 that range from slow reads from DVD drives, to failures of remote desktop access features, to slow network performance.

Free support calls

For users with serious problems with SP1, Microsoft provides free support here. “Users will not be charged for support calls relating to the installation of SP1 — they should just be sure to choose Windows Vista SP1 as the option from the choices listed,” a company spokesperson explained in a statement e-mailed to InternetNews.com.

Microsoft hopes the arrival of SP1 will trigger the beginning of the mass migration to Vista by enterprise IT shops. That’s been the case in the past with the service pack that followed XP’s release, for example. But it may not go be as widespread this time around.

“It looks like some corporations are going to begin allowing Vista [with SP1] in on new PCs over the next six months or so, but I don’t think anyone [in corporate IT] is going to put it on existing hardware,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at research firm the Enderle Group

As for consumers who are having difficulty getting SP1 to install or work properly at this point, he’s got a bit of advice as well.

“If you don’t absolutely need [SP1], go ahead and wait until you get it automatically because that gives you extra time to make sure any lingering problems are worked out,” he said.

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