Microsoft’s Evolving Approach to Servicing the Windows Platform
Microsoft today shared details on its plans for the first service pack of Windows Vista, including a timeline for its release. To learn more, PressPass spoke with Jon DeVaan, Senior Vice President of the Windows Core Operating System division at Microsoft.
PressPass: 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 SP1?
Jon DeVaan, Microsoft Senior Vice President, Windows Core Operating System Division
DeVaan: We’re targeting the first quarter of 2008, but the exact date really depends on feedback we receive from testers and the work we put into making sure we understand the feedback we receive. We’re making a beta available to more than 10,000 people in the next few weeks – that’s a critical step for us on the road to release, and we’re looking forward to the feedback we’ll get.
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.
PressPass: Isn’t that a long time between Windows Vista RTM (or “gold code”) and the release of 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.
Let me give you a few examples of the different ways we service Windows today. For enterprise customers, we work closely with them, through our Premier Customer Service organization, on diagnosing and analyzing specific issues that arise during their deployments or use of Windows Vista. Then, as a result, we develop ‘hot fixes’ – single downloads containing one or more files that address a very specific element of feedback – and make them available through our managed support channels. For home users, we offer the Windows Update service, which customers can opt-into to receive the most significant updates, including security updates, as they become available. For OEMs and system builders, we have been working to deliver important updates to them that support issues discovered with new hardware, and already have delivered a number of important updates – such as updated USB support – which benefit new PCs based on new hardware.
All of these updates also are designed to be included in the next available service pack. That means that Windows Vista SP1 will include all the product changes from all channels, in addition to other improvements. The upside here is that the overall Windows experience is consistently improving over time, and customers have a choice as to how to receive those improvements. Some customers will want to use the more efficient, incremental servicing mechanisms like Windows Update or, for enterprises, Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), and others will prefer to get all fixes in a single service pack that can be rolled out in a managed deployment. It’s a matter of choice for the customer.
PressPass: How do you know and decide what gets fixed for a service pack?
DeVaan: We are constantly monitoring the quality of users’ experience 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.
Our primary focus after launch became addressing ecosystem compatibility issues that the data showed had adversely impacted some users’ Windows Vista experience. For example, when consumers see a “Device Not Found” message or the systems report back that a device failed to install, we can prioritize getting the needed drivers available on Windows Update or up on the hardware vendor’s Web site. 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.
PressPass: 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 have 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.
Windows Vista SP1 will contain changes focused on addressing feedback from our customers across a number of areas. In addition to all the fixes delivered via other channels like Windows Update, Windows Vista SP1 will address specific reliability and performance issues that have been discussed on many self-help forums, such as copying files and shutdown time. It will support new types of hardware and emerging standards, like EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) and ExFat (a new file format that will be used in flash memory storage and consumer devices). It will also include some management, deployment, and support improvements, such as adding the ability to detect and correct common file sharing problems to Network Diagnostics. Windows Vista SP1 also will include Secure Development Lifecycle process updates, where we identify the root cause of each security bulletin and improve our internal tools to eliminate code patterns that could lead to future vulnerabilities.
As we’ve done in the past, we will document all of the changes through our support.microsoft.com site in a Knowledge Base article, which will be available around the time the beta is released.
PressPass: What about security improvements in Windows Vista SP1?
DeVaan: Windows Vista continues to be the most secure version of Windows ever. For instance, we can know from a recent vulnerability reports comparison that Windows Vista had 50 percent fewer critical vulnerabilities than XP SP2 and far fewer critical vulnerabilities than other competing operating systems in their first respective 180 days after release. We have addressed any known vulnerabilities in the appropriate manner and those changes will be in Windows Vista SP1 as well. At the same time, we are always looking at the proactive work we can do to improve the product before we receive reports of potential vulnerabilities. We have invested significantly in tools, training and techniques to improve the security of our software. We are constantly looking for and learning about new means of improving security, as well as new ways software is being pushed by those wishing to do harm. Using these learnings, we improve our tools, which we then use to analyze and proactively continue to harden Windows Vista.
Windows Vista SP1 will contain a significant number of code changes focused on the ongoing work to continue making Windows Vista the most secure operating system available. We are being proactive -- these code changes do not represent vulnerabilities, rather they are coding practices that we continue to hone and improve in the ongoing race against escalating and evolving security threats.
PressPass: You’ve talked about changes to Windows Vista code itself, but what about compatibility with third party software? Will Windows Vista SP1 improve application compatibility?
DeVaan: When we built Windows Vista, the changes necessary to make it more secure did cause some application compatibility challenges, but we think it was a worthwhile trade-off, particularly as hacking activity gravitates toward organized crime that is intent on stealing credit card data or stealing enterprise trade secrets. Bearing that in mind, it is also worth pointing out that Windows Vista was tested with thousands and thousands of applications, the majority of which are perfectly compatible, and that the number of applications carrying the Windows Vista logo, which assures a good experience, recently passed 2,100 and continues to grow every day. Also, we are continually working with ISVs to provide updates that make more of their software compatible with Windows Vista.
One of our top priorities for Windows Vista SP1 is to avoid causing regressions in application compatibility, as we know that’s very important to our customers using Windows Vista today. Also, Windows Vista SP1 will provide some fixes for application compatibility, but by and large we are sticking with the promise we made of first delivering superior security to end users, and we won’t make any changes in Windows Vista SP1 that compromise that for the sake of better compatibility.
PressPass: It sounds like a lot is changing. Is this a sizeable update for Windows Vista?
DeVaan: It’s true that at first glance it will look like a lot is changing, and it’s true that there are thousands of files being changed to varying degrees in Windows Vista SP1. However, the first measure of “size” most people will encounter will likely be the download of Windows Vista SP1 through Windows Update or Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), which we predict will be about 50 MB. The second measure of size will be the free disk space requirement for installing Windows Vista SP1, which is currently around 7 GB for the beta, although we will be working to bring this down for the final version as we optimize the servicing algorithms used.
IT Professionals not using distribution tools like WSUS will work with the “stand-alone” image of Windows Vista SP1. This image will be considerably larger than the download, at about a gigabyte in the beta, but it’s large with good reasons. This package includes all of the localized language resources for 36 languages, so that companies with worldwide install images have all the files they need in one place. Also, this image utilizes servicing algorithms that update all files of an operating system component, even if only one of the files has changed, which increases the size of the image but allows IT Pros to service their images in any order they chose without worrying about creating inconsistent system states across their organization. Finally, Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 share the same code base, and we are choosing to unify the servicing between the two in order to simplify the long-term maintenance process and lower support costs for customers. To do this, we’re changing the files necessary to align the servicing components, which contributes to the larger size of the stand-alone image.
PressPass: Will customers see an improvement immediately after installing Windows Vista SP1? Should they wait for Windows Vista SP1 to move to Windows Vista?
DeVaan: We think Windows Vista is one of the best versions of Windows we’ve ever released, and, just like with past Windows releases, the servicing model is about continuously improving the quality of the code after it is released and keeping up with an evolving PC ecosystem. While it’s likely customers will experience some improvements when updating the RTM version of Windows Vista with Windows Vista SP1, many of the improvements will be available prior to the release of the service pack through the other vehicles I’ve mentioned, and we think that Windows Vista is an operating system that offers great benefits today for everyone from home users to large enterprises.
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