Microsoft leans on Vista SP1 site

Microsoft Corp.'s legal team sent a cease-and-desist e-mail to a Web site owner who has posted more than 100 hot fixes he expects to be in the first Windows Vista service pack (SP1). The operator of Hotfix.net complied, and has removed the link to a packaged download of the hotfixes.

Ethan Allen, who runs the site and blogs about Microsoft patches, has created an information center that highlights patches he believes will show up in Vista SP1.

"I get most of my information as to what will be in SP1 from Microsoft's own KB [Knowledge Base]," Allen said in an interview Wednesday via instant messaging. "Let me give you an example. [Look at] http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;887170; this is a hot fix for Windows XP SP3, although Microsoft won't admit it." Windows XP Service Pack 3 is a not-yet-released, but promised Microsoft service pack.

"How do I know?" Allen wrote. "Look at the very bottom [of the document] under Keywords. You'll see 'kbwinxppresp3fix kbwinxpsp3fix.' They do that for most hot fixes that will be in a service pack." He was referring to keywords that seemingly cue Microsoft to include them in the next service pack rollup. Allen said he uses the same approach to find some of the hot fixes destined for Vista SP1; others he obtains from what he would only describe as an "inside source."

Although Microsoft has previously confirmed the existence of Vista SP1 -- and a company spokeswoman repeated that today -- it's neither ready to talk about a release date, nor apparently happy about Allen's site.

"The collection of Microsoft hot fixes that you're calling 'Vista SP1Preview Pack' and are making available for download at http://www.vistasp1.net and, more specifically, http://www.vistasp1.net/forums/ are not intended for general public consumption," Microsoft said in a copy of the e-mail to Allen obtained by Computerworld. The message, written by a J.K. Weston in the company's legal affairs department, continued, "It is important for Microsoft to work directly with customers to ensure they are downloading a hot fix that may be designed to resolve a specific technical issue, rather than having them download haphazardly from your site.

"Please immediately discontinue your unauthorized redistribution of our hot fixes and confirm when you have removed these downloads."

Allen, who works as a quality assurance manager at a Bellevue, Wash.-based technology company, complied by deleting a link to the hot fix pack download. "I told them OK and I did," he said. "I'm not trying to get into trouble with them."

Microsoft's legal maneuver may have seemed odd to anyone who reads the company's official Vista blog, where yesterday program manager Nick White dismissed Allen's efforts. "[You'll] notice that what is posted consists of some material already available on Windows Update and some hot fixes that we give out on a case-by-case basis, along with a lot of speculation about what may and may not be included in SP1," White said.

"It seems to me the blogger compiled a list of previous mentions of SP1 (purely conjectural, and already discussed in other blogs) stitched together with another list of 'hot fixes' mentioned in various KB articles," he added.

White also discouraged users from installing hot fixes -- whether those compiled by Allen or the ones posted on Microsoft's own site -- willy-nilly. "Hot fixes not posted on Windows Update are not intended for individual installation unless the user is experiencing the specific symptoms mentioned in the corresponding KB article," he said. "Installing a collection of unnecessary hot fixes may cause more problems than are fixed."

SP1 may be on Microsoft's legal watch list, but it isn't on any calendar ready to share with customers, a company spokeswoman said. "It is too early for Microsoft to provide any firm date range for SP1's delivery," she said, adding that the company "expects to release the first service pack for Vista in a time frame similar to that of previous service packs."

In recent history, Microsoft unveiled Windows XP SP1 a bit more than 10 months after Windows XP's debut. Windows Server 2003, however, didn't see SP1 for 23 months after the server software first appeared. Using those samples, Vista SP1 could appear anytime in 2008.

"I think [what I post] is useful information for tech guys like myself and can be used to solve personal problems on your machine if needed," said Allen in defending his site. "They never threw such a big fit over XP SP3," he said, referring to another collection of hot fixes that he updates on his site.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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