Vista SP1 ‘debacle’ prompts TechNet revolt

A revolt among IT professionals and developers is brewing over Microsoft Corp.’s decision to hold the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), with some admitting that they’ve downloaded pirated copies to begin testing and others claiming that the delay scuttles their Vista deployment plans.

On the TechNet Plus blog, where Microsoft solicited comments on the delay, more than 130 users and subscribers have unleashed a tidal wave of criticism against the decision to not make the RTM version of SP1 available immediately. Microsoft, which earlier said it will not post Vista SP1 RTM to Windows Update or its download site, has only promised to provide a full install copy of the operating system in “early March” to TechNet and MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscribers.

But while the company interjected comments of its own into the stream of postings this week, as of midday Friday, it had not budged on the availability of SP1 for TechNet and MSDN subscribers.

Virtually none of the 131 comments posted thus far defended Microsoft’s decision, and many were extremely blunt. “[Microsoft] has done some really boneheaded stuff, but this ranks right up at the top,” said Pete Mitchell in a comment added to the blog Monday.

Another user identified as “PopePeter” put it differently: “Microsoft in its infinite wisdom has chosen to kick its core user base right where it hurts.”

One wag, identified as Jim, even took a humorous route: “This is the lamest decision since Microsoft Bob. I get this the same time as my mom?”

Although the comments at times wandered off topic, they generally fell into several distinct threads, among them threats to ditch TechNet and MSDN, accounts of downloading pirated code to start testing, and warnings to Microsoft that this move will force some organizations to delay deploying Vista and continue using Windows XP instead.

“The whole point of TechNet is for IT pros to get access to Microsoft software to test and evaluate before deploying it into a production environment,” said a subscriber pegged as “solema.” “It’s why I bought TechNet, and why most others did as well. If we can’t get access to SP1 very soon, then I have to agree with everyone else that my subscription has just been severely devalued, and I will seriously reconsider my renewal.”

“Isn’t the whole purpose of MSDN so you get a chance to test your work in a variety of scenarios?” asked Maarten. “SP1 for Vista is the biggest update since XP SP2, and we don’t get to test it?”

“Needless to say, we are done with MSDN and TechNet after this billing cycle,” vowed someone tagged as “JF.”

The situation infuriated some users after they found pirates could download illegal copies of SP1 RTM from BitTorrent Inc. sites while developers were locked out by Microsoft. Ironically, some admitted to downloading SP1 from sites such as The Pirate Bay so they could start banging on the operating system.

“I must also report that we are now using a SP1 version from a torrent to begin testing so that we can at least support clients that come to us with questions on SP1,” admitted Matt.

“I have seen the torrent files as well and went ahead and downloaded the one I needed so I can begin testing,” said a commenter using the alias “MSDN Subscriber.” “I can’t actually believe this is the first time I installed a torrent client on an office machine.” Others questioned why press reviewers had received the final bits — and posted reviews online — before SP1 was available to paying subscribers of TechNet and MSDN. (Editor’s note: Computerworld’s reviewers have received the final code of SP1 RTM.)

“My company pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to Microsoft every year for Premier Support and to not have to opportunity to get the software before the press is ridiculous,” vented Chris Ripkey.

Not only was the delay a major miscalculation, said many users, but it will have immediate — and, in their eyes, serious — ramifications for themselves as IT professionals, their organizations and Microsoft.

“If I cannot get a certified download or install of SP1 for testing, I will be forced to leave my machines on XP for three to six more months then I had planned,” said Anthony, another commenter on the TechNet blog. “This will include the downgrade of all new machines to XP. [This is a] serious black eye not only for Microsoft, but for me as I have been the one ‘selling’ this.”

“We have been rolling back, ‘downgrading,’ Windows Vista Business machines to XP Professional because of certain problems that are actually fixed with SP1,” claimed MSDN Subscriber. “And then to hear that, 1) we don’t get to test it before general public release and 2) that the SP has already leaked onto certain sites … is a big slap in the face to those who pay for MSDN and TechNet.”

Another subscriber chalked it up as yet more evidence that Microsoft has lost its way on Vista. “We already all have enough problems even mentioning the word ‘Vista’ in many companies due to the number of issues,” said Mark. “Does Microsoft seriously understand the level of frustration? SP1 is critical to getting Vista back on track. Delaying it just harms the customers, continues to sour the corporate world, [and] turns your TechNet and MSDN users into frustrated users. As it stands, right now, we all think Microsoft has lost [its] mind and [is] making terrible decisions regarding Vista and the SP releases.”

Kathy Dixon, the Microsoft employee who writes the posts on the TechNet Plus blog, left several comments herself, starting on Tuesday afternoon when she acknowledged user frustrations. “I’m exploring how we insure TechNet (and MSDN) subscribers get this before the general public,” she said then. And while Dixon most recently piped up late Thursday, saying she is “continuing to push internally for a solution ASAP,” as of mid-day Friday, she had not posted any new information.

Although many users said they would welcome a change, even now, some had clearly had enough. “As a frustrated and disappointed MSDN Premium subscriber, I can only hope that this event — which will probably go down in the history books as the Vista SP1 RTM Debacle — will serve as a catalyst for Microsoft upper management to take a serious look at repairing their poor relations with the development and testing community,” opined someone tagged as “MSDN Premium Subscriber.”

“All of us here are married to Microsoft, for better or for worse,” the poster said. “However, there are times, like this, where some of us are wondering how much more abuse we can bear to take. We pay for certifications, subscriptions, upgrades, crazy licensing … you name it … to stay ‘current’ with the moving target that is Microsoft. Meanwhile, we watch our dignity and respect erode away and thrown into the gutter.

“This Vista SP1 RTM debacle, however it ultimately is resolved, has really stabbed a lot of us right in the back. The injury to our dignity may be a fatal blow. This is a wake-up call for Microsoft,” the commenter concluded.

Microsoft, which Thursday said that TechNet and MSDN subscribers would have a two-week jump on the general public, did not offer a spokesman Friday to comment on the TechNet criticism.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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