Driver problems still haunting Vista

Why Service Pack 1 isn't in your hands yet

When Steve Sinchak's new Intel network card became "really slow" after upgrading his Windows Vista PC with a pre-release version of Service Pack 1, he tried uninstalling its software driver and replacing it with a new one.

But to his dismay, the Chicago-area technology author and blogger found himself "stuck in a loop" during the InstallShield-managed process -- unable to replace his sluggish older driver with a new, peppier one.

"It's messed up to the point where I may have to use brute force to uninstall the driver, or wipe my hard drive and reinstall Windows Vista completely," he said.

Sinchak's is an example, admittedly an extreme one, of the driver problems that forced Microsoft to take the unusual step of holding SP1's availability to users until March even while announcing its release to manufacturing (RTM) on Monday.

Not even the hundreds of thousands of people who have already been testing Vista SP1, nor the many Windows developers accustomed to being able to download software on Microsoft's MSDN or TechNet Web sites immediately after RTM, will be able to get SP1 for another 6-8 weeks.

And if you are one of the unlucky Vista users using a driver known to break and need reinstallation after the upgrade to SP1, Windows Update will quarantine you from getting SP1 until the driver is fixed.

"We want all of our customers to have the same good experience," said Microsoft senior product manager, David Zipkin, in an interview Monday. "That's why we're erring on the side of caution."

Cancel or allow or shut up already?

Service Pack 1 remains the milestone by which many companies and consumers judge when a Microsoft product is truly bug-free and mature enough to deploy. Any delay in SP1 could have an adverse effect on Vista uptake, which has been generally strong -- more than 100 million copies shipped -- despite a lukewarm market response.

Zipkin points out that most drivers, once re-installed after the SP1 upgrade, should work properly.

That was the experience of several Computerworld readers.

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Eric Lai

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