Will someone please tell me what’s the big deal with Windows Vista SP1?

I ask this question because whenever I speak about or present a class about Vista, someone always chimes in with, “Do you think WP1 will ship on time?” My usual response is to look confused, cock my head, and ask my interlocutor, “Why would you want that?” The questioner usually responds, “Well, there’s so much in the press about it, and Microsoft is being so secretive...” Perhaps I missed a memo.

Let’s take a moment to consider the matter.

I can’t speak for Vista SP1’s supposed lateness, but I’d argue that Microsoft shipped Vista too early. In March 2006, Microsoft determined that it would be unable to get Vista out the door in time for hardware vendors to have Vista-equipped systems for sale in the Christmas 2006 shopping season. That announcement made hardware vendors unhappy, and their stocks dropped. Everyone was mad at Microsoft. That’s understandable. What I don’t understand is why Microsoft then buckled down and did everything in its power to ship Vista a mere month after its target ship date. I mean, the company had already missed the big Christmas date; what was the big rush to get Vista on the shelves in January? Those popular Martin Luther King Birthday PC sales?

The result was an incarnation of Vista that, at least in my opinion, is pretty good from the “I haven’t found any system-crashing, data-loss bugs” point of view, but quite irritating because it’s plagued with a zillion little nits that quite frankly could have all been found and squashed if Microsoft had kept it in testing for another six months. I hear some of you saying, “Hey, wait a minute, Minasi! If Microsoft took five years to create Vista, what makes you think that it would squash those bugs in just six months’ more time?” The answer is simple: Vista wasn’t even complete until late September. For example, the new Icacls command didn’t even work correctly until a late September build. Microsoft then released Vista to manufacturing about six weeks later. In other words, the period between Microsoft’s release of a fully functioning copy of Vista and RTM was about a month and a half. The beta testers had a mere 90 days to run the thing through its paces—not much time.

But what if Microsoft had completely frozen all creation of new code on, say, September 21, and had made the hard decision that anything that wasn’t 100 percent feature-complete on that day would be ripped out of the system? If Microsoft had made that decision and then decided that no matter how complete the code seemed that it would wait until March 21 before declaring Vista done, I believe that most of the little annoyances that I live with every day would have been discovered and fixed.

Why didn’t Microsoft take that time? Quite simply, the company bowed to pressure. So many of my journalist and pundit brethren and sistren apparently needed something to write about so desperately that hey, jumping all over Microsoft because of a slipped date was like getting a free column and—even better—it made Microsoft decision makers panic and do those journalists’ bidding. (Didn’t Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben say something about great power?)

Don’t get me wrong, I find slipped software dates as irritating as anyone else. But, as I’ve said many times before, consider the message that a public excoriation over late software delivers: We consumers don’t care whether the new software has a low bug count; we care only that the vendor ships it on time. Now here’s a legitimate analogy that still frustrates me: Try to imagine a bunch of automobile-industry journalists telling Volkswagen to get off their butts and ship that new revived version of the Microbus, even though it’s not quite fully tested yet.

The bottom line is that although Vista did get shipped a mite quickly, that doesn’t have to happen to SP1. I seem to remember some guy named Santayana saying something appropriate about this topic, too, but I guess I’m having a bad day on quotes.