Microsoft slates Windows 7 SP1 public beta for July

But it downplays importance of the service pack

Microsoft today said that it would ship a public beta of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) in July, but did not set a release date during the month.

The company made the announcement from TechEd, the Microsoft IT and developer conference that kicked off Monday in New Orleans.

Microsoft acknowledged it was working on a service pack for its newest operating system in March, but at the time declined to discuss timeline for delivering a public preview.

Microsoft's timetable for Windows 7 SP1 is ahead of Vista's schedule by approximately two months. In 2007, Microsoft seeded an invite-only group of testers with an early build of Vista SP1 in September, but didn't offer a build to the general public until December , 11 months after that operating system's release to retail. Windows 7 SP1 is slated to appear nine months after the debut of that OS.

Today, Microsoft repeated what it said in March, that Windows 7 SP1 will not include any new features. "SP1 will not contain any new features that are specific to Windows 7 itself," said Gavriella Schuster, senior director of the Windows commercial product management group, in a post to a Microsoft company blog on Monday. "For Windows 7, SP1 will simply be the combination of updates already available through Windows Update and additional hotfixes based on feedback by our customers and partners."

The most notable addition to SP1 will be an updated Remote Desktop client designed to work with RemoteFX, the new remote-access platform set to debut in SP1 for Windows Server 2008 R2, which will also reach public beta next month.

Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will also include a feature dubbed "Dynamic Memory," which lets IT staff adjust guest virtual machines' memory on the fly.

If Microsoft adheres to Vista's schedule, the final build of Windows 7 SP1 should be available before the end of the year -- perhaps as soon as November -- making good on the delivery date revealed by a Malaysian Web site in early March.

At the time, TechARP.com , which has accurately called service pack schedules for several editions of Windows, said that while sources had originally pegged a 22-month development schedule for Windows 7 SP1, Microsoft had changed its mind and moved up the service pack ship date to the fourth quarter of 2010 .

At the same time she announced the upcoming public beta of Windows 7 SP1, Schuster downplayed its importance. "Customers can feel confident about deploying Windows 7 now," she said, citing analysts' recommendations that enterprise customers need not wait for SP1 -- as some have done historically -- before deploying the new OS.

Last month, Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC, called Windows 7 SP1 an "important milestone," but added that it would have little impact on corporate migrations. "Historically, classic customer deployment behavior for new Windows client operating systems was to wait for the first service pack to arrive," Gillen said in a research note published in May. "[But] the Windows patching process ... has changed the rules of the game for many customers. The continuous stream of patches, over time, delivers a significant portion of service pack content."

Gillen's comments echoed opinions expressed earlier by other analysts, including Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft and Diane Hagglund of Dimensional Research, who both had said the rapid adoption of Windows 7 made SP1 as a business deployment milestone mostly moot.

More important than Windows 7 SP1 itself, Gillen said last month, was that its appearance marks the end of downgrade rights from Windows 7 Professional to the older Windows XP Professional.

Downgrade rights from Windows 7 to XP are to end in late April 2011 or when Microsoft launches Windows 7 SP1, whichever comes first.

Microsoft also delivered a beta of Exchange Server 2010 SP1 today. Previously, the company has said the final of its next mail server software would release before the end of the year.

Exchange Server 2010 SP1 can be downloaded from the Microsoft site .

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

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