In addition, the general public will be able to test SP2 beta for Vista clients as part of Microsoft's Customer Preview Program starting on December 4th, 2008. The software will be available at Microsoft's TechNet site here.
Previously, SP2 had been available only to private beta testers in Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program, who started testing it on Oct. 29. By broadening its release, Microsoft seeks additional feedback to finalize changes before the product shipping date. Microsoft estimates that the SP2 product will be available "in the first half of 2009."
The TechARP.com Web site, which has floated accurate (although unofficial) predictions of Microsoft Windows releases in the past, stated that the Release Candidate version of Vista SP2 will be available in February of 2009. TechARP predicted a Release to Manufacturing date for Vista SP2 in April of that year.
Even thought the beta release of SP2 will be generally available this Thursday, it's intended more for enthusiasts and the technical community.
"For most customers, our best advice would be to wait until the final release prior to installing this service pack," said Mike Nash, Microsoft's corporate vice president, Windows product management, in the announcement.
A noteworthy aspect to this release is that Microsoft provides a single standalone installer that delivers SP2 for both Vista and Windows Server 2008.
The single installer reflects a policy change by Microsoft. With Vista Service Pack 1, Microsoft moved to a "single service model." Under this model, Vista and Windows Server 2008 share the same code base. Previously, with Windows XP, Microsoft had allowed the code base to fork between the client and server operating systems.
A prerequisite to adding SP2 is having Vista SP1 installed beforehand. For those who can't remember that, Microsoft added a fail-safe measure. The SP2 installer features "the ability to detect an incompatible driver and block service pack installation or warn users of any potential loss of functionality," according to Microsoft's notable changes Web page on TechNet.
SP2 includes all previous security updates since the release of Vista SP1 in March. It also has hardware support for the wireless Bluetooth 2.1 standard and Blu-ray disk media, as well as an improved Wi-Fi wireless setup. A summary of SP2's highlights is described at Microsoft's Springboard blog here.
Some have claimed that Microsoft is rushing the release of SP2, but a blog by ZDNet writer Ed Bott claims Microsoft is just staying on schedule. Bott provides graphs showing that Microsoft had more trouble getting XP service packs out the door than those for Vista.
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