Is First Service Pack for Windows 7 Pending?

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Windows 7 just shipped in late October, although it was "released to manufacturing" back in July -- so is it too soon to be thinking about the first service pack (SP) for the new system?

One blogger said he believes he's found clues that he surmises may portend the beginning of testing for Windows 7 SP1 by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) sometime soon. The key is in the Windows registry.

What he found in poking around the registry were several special entries in Windows 7's registry that are apparently there to allow a service pack to run.

"Similar to previous external beta service pack rollouts, Microsoft has enabled -- via updates you already installed -- a beta 'candidacy check' within its Windows Update software," said a post over the weekend by Raphael Rivera on his Within Windows blog .

"Just like Windows Vista, a registry key and value pair need to be added prior to being authorized to download the new software," Rivera continued. The Windows 7 registry does contain several entries that clearly contain the text string Win7SP1.

From there, however, it is seemingly a leap to conclude that SP1 testing is imminent.

"The takeaway here is that external Windows 7 SP1 testing should commence soon, if it hasn’t already," Rivera said in his brief blog entry.

It's not as if Rivera is just another overzealous tech enthusiast. He is the blogger who, in November, shed light on Microsoft's inadvertent use of improperly licensed open source code in a tool meant to help users download and install Windows 7 onto thumb drives. Microsoft subsequently admitted to the gaffe and reissued the tool under the Gnu Public License version 2, or GPLv2.

The reason why the first service pack is important is that, traditionally, many IT shops wait until SP1 of a new release of Windows before they begin deploying, and in some cases, before they even begin testing the new release.

Early signs this time around, though, indicate that some shops will begin testing and deploying Windows 7 as soon as this quarter.

For instance, in October, financial firm Jeffries & Company predicted that the IT upgrade cycle for the adoption of Windows 7 could kick off as early as June.

In addition, analysis firm ChangeWave reported in a survey of more than 1,700 corporate IT buyers that around 70 percent are primed to begin acquiring new desktops and laptops (presumably running Windows 7) this quarter.

Though many Windows 7 users to date are consumers and not IT shops, use of the new system is already taking off. For example, Web analytics firm Net Applications currently shows Windows 7 with 5.71 percent of operating system usage, up from 4 percent in November.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on Rivera's statements, saying, "We do not comment on rumors or speculation."

One leading Windows analyst tried to put the whole question in context. Since Windows 7 is based on Windows Vista, he said, he would argue that it is actually the equivalent of a service pack for Vista. (Released to IT shops in late 2006 and to consumers in early 2007, Vista has already had two service packs. SP1 came out a year after Vista rolled out, and SP2 came out just over a year after that.)

"Despite the fact that Microsoft has trained us to wait for the first service pack, Windows 7 is the exception," Michael Cherry, lead analyst for operating systems at Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com.

"[IT buyers] can think of Windows 7 as the service pack that got it right," Cherry added.

Stuart Johnston is a contributing writer to InternetNews.com, based in Bellevue, Wash.