Is Microsoft Playing Games With XP SP3?

It's a question that is burning up the blogosphere with some speculating that Microsoft has delayed XP SP3, a long awaited release that could boost the performance of XP, to get more users to adopt Vista, a potential cash cow for Microsoft and PC makers given the operating system's robust hardware refresh requirements.

With many in the blogosphere speculating that Microsoft could release the final version of XP SP3 this week, Microsoft late Tuesday snuffed out all hope that users would see the service pack, originally slated for release in 2006, any time soon.

Instead of a final XP SP 3 release, Microsoft announced late Tuesday a refresh to the XP SP3 Release Candidate 2 version it posted to its Download Center just last month. The software giant cited the need to elicit more feedback from testers, but some solution providers aren't buying it.

"I think Microsoft is withholding XP SP3 until all of the smoke has blown over with Vista SP1," said Patrick Derosier, co-owner of CPU Guys, a Hanson, Mass system builder. "They are dealing with a driver backlash from Vista SP1 which was released only last week."

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Derosier said Microsoft is grappling with a raft of Vista driver issues that is hampering the adoption of the operating sytem. He said CPU Guys recommends users stick with XP rather than move to Vista.

Derosier said Vista is not ready for prime time yet. "Vista still needs a lot more hardware support in the form of drivers from major vendors before we can recommend it," he said. "You can tell there is a problem when a major Intel video driver on many chipsets has a problem."

On top of that, Derosier said there is a significant amount of software driver problems. "The thousands of the programs that have been written have all been written with certain rules in place," he said. "Those rules have drastically changed with the release of Vista. The industry is being lazy and just hasn't updated the software or the hardware to work with Vista."

For example, the currently-available versions of Symantec Endpoint Protection 11.0 and Symantec Network Access Control are not certified for use with Vista SP1, which means users won't be able to download SP1 until Symantec releases the next versions of the software, which the vendor says will happen "in the coming weeks".

"This Vista situation is a growing pain for the PC business," Derosier said. "It's a major problem that Apple doesn't face because Apple controls the hardware and most of the software on its tightly held Macintosh system.

"Customers don't like change," he added. "They are not ready for Vista. They know Vista is there, but they won't go with it until we give it the greenlight. They take our professional recommendation."

Despite all the driver issues, Derosier said Vista is not as "horrible" as some are making it out to be. "Remember back in the day XP was treated the same way," he said. "Technology is a lot different today than when XP came out many years ago. Everyone likes to complain and when you complain it spreads across the blogosphere."

Derosier said al lot of the issues surrounding Vista come with Microsoft moving to make the operating system more secure. "With XP you had almost full access to certain areas of the operating system kernel that you don't have access to with Vista," he said. "So what it boils down to is the way Microsoft is writing its software with Vista, making it secure from the ground up which they didn't do with XP. They are going to run into problems like the driver issue with Vista SP1 as a result of that."

Glen Coffield, president of Smart Guys Computers, an Orlando, Fla.-based retail chain with six stores in central Florida, said he sees Vista sales picking up with the release of Vista SP1.

"We are starting to do a lot more Vista now that SP1 is out there," he said. "Whether it really fixes anything or not it doesn't matter. People sit on the fence and wait for the first service pack release. We dealt with the same thing with Windows XP."

Coffield said that some three months ago his business was selling 90 percent XP and 10 percent Vista on its systems. That has shifted to 70 percent XP and 30 percent Vista, he said. "The migration to Vista is starting to happen," he said.

That said, he still sees a healthy business ripping and replacing Vista off of systems in favor of XP. "I don't think they are having a problem selling Vista," he said.