Microsoft: Vista SP2, Windows Server SP2 betas Thursday

Not one half-hour after Microsoft responded to BetaNews' inquiry, the company reversed its position, effectively announcing that the first public betas of Vista SP2 not in February, but next Thursday.

The word of a December 4 public beta release officially came from Microsoft Corp. Vice President Mike Nash at 4:23 pm this afternoon, moments after our story about rumors of a Q1 2009 beta release went live.

"Beginning Thursday Dec. 4th, we will be making the Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 Beta available to everyone through a Customer Preview Program (CPP)," Nash wrote. "The CPP will launch on TechNet and be available to anyone interested in trying out this service pack."

Nash went on to say the SP2 updates will include support for "new types of hardware and emerging standards that will grow in importance in the coming months." A document posted by Microsoft moments ago lists the nature of those changes to which Nash refers.

For Vista users, the most noteworthy new features include support Nash promised earlier this year for Bluetooth 2.1, as well as possible solutions to the problem we've frequently experienced ourselves: inability or reticence of Vista to regain its active Wi-Fi connection after resuming from sleep mode.

And for Windows Server admins, an announcement that many thought would be delayed until the R2 release next year: full integration of Hyper-V, the company's hardware-supporting virtualization platform, along with the operating system. All Windows Server 2008 SP2 will contain Hyper-V, along with one license to install what Microsoft is now calling daughter OS (previously known as "hosted environments") with Standard Edition, four licenses with Enterprise Edition, and unlimited licenses with the Datacenter edition. This is in keeping with licensing changes announced last August.

Changes to WS2K8's power profile will also be implemented with SP2, according to a blog post from senior program manager Justin Graham, also moments ago.

An early December initial beta cycle would coincide with information attributed by a Malaysian tech blog to a "confidential source" earlier today, saying that a release candidate for Vista SP2, and probably Windows Server 2008 SP2, were due next February.

3:56 pm EST December 2, 2008 - Windows 7 is scheduled for the second half of 2009 -- preferably not year's end -- so all of a sudden, it's time to wind down Vista's lifecycle. With not much time left, predictions about milestone dates are more likely to be accurate.

A report from the Malaysian technology blog TechARP cites what it calls a "confidential source" as having revealed that Microsoft plans to produce a release candidate of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 this upcoming February, with the intent of a final release in April. Given what we know for certain about Microsoft's current release roadmap, even if that source had only provided a prediction, that date could be plausible.

In a statement to BetaNews this afternoon, a Microsoft spokesperson repeated that it plans to release Windows Vista SP2 and Windows Server SP2 within the first half of next year. Given that the first half of next year is five weeks away, we can probably write off January as a possible release month, given that the RC1 cycle for both operating systems will have to follow extensive beta cycles.

April for Vista SP2 is within the realm of possibility if everything goes off like clockwork. In a blog post two weeks ago, Internet Explorer Dean Hatchamovitch revealed his team's plans with regard to IE8: "We will release one more public update of IE8 in the first quarter of 2009, and then follow that up with the final release," Hatchamovitch wrote. "Our next public release of IE (typically called a 'release candidate') indicates the end of the beta period."

Microsoft has not said that IE8 would be released with SP2, but for reliability to be ensured, especially with SP2 targeted for the first half, inevitably they would have to be tested to work with one another. Beta 3 Release Candidate 1 of IE8 would likely be released first, within Q1 2009. Hatchamovitch did not say the final IE8 would be released in Q1, so he would have been free to target April as a release month. That certainly gives Microsoft a window of no sooner than April.

Assuming TechARP's "confidential source" received accurate information, if that information came from a presentation to Microsoft's partners -- if experience is any guide -- it doesn't necessarily mean April 2009 is set in stone. With Microsoft officially holding open the window until the end of June, it could be setting forth April as a preliminary deadline, in hopes that partners can schedule updates to their drivers and other software in time.

"As always, the final release date is based on quality," the Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews today, "and we will track customer and partner feedback from the beta program before setting a final date for distribution."

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