Last Tuesday, my family and I flew home from a month-long trip to France, and to be perfectly frank, I was looking forward to a quiet Wednesday which I intended to spend peacefully in a travel-induced near-coma. It was not to be: Awaking early Wednesday morning, I was confronted by a number of alarming Microsoft announcements concerning Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), and Windows XP SP3. I spent the rest of the day trying to make sense of the events and write about it coherently.

Here's what's happening.

First, Microsoft has delayed the RTM, or release of manufacturing, of Windows Server 2008 from late 2007 until the first quarter of 2008. You may recall that the company was already planning a Windows 2008/SQL Server 2008/Visual Studio 2008 launch event on February 27, so this delay isn't really much of an issue, honestly. Microsoft vaguely notes that the delay is needed so the product can meet its high quality standards, but I think there's something more at work here. Expect another public pre-release build in the coming days that finally features the one long-awaited Windows 2008 Role most people still haven't gotten their hands on yet.

But wait, there's more. You may recall that I've been claiming for a year now that Microsoft told me it would roll out Windows 2008 and the first Vista service pack concurrently. Well, the company is finally owning up to it: Last week, Microsoft revealed that Windows Vista SP1 would indeed ship alongside Windows 2008 in the first quarter of 2008 and that contrary to rumors you may have heard, SP1 won't include any major new features but will instead be a traditional Microsoft service pack.

This is fantastic news, unless of course you were using SP1 as an excuse to rollout Vista. Despite high profile and sensational news stories to the contrary, Vista does not appear to be broken in any major way, and the introduction of SP1 early next year won't really change the Vista experience dramatically. Yes, it will includes a number of previously released hot-fixes, security fixes, and other updates. But Microsoft feels that OS servicing is best handled via its online updating systems going forward (Windows Update and so on) and that service packs can be relegated to less important role. I think this is a smart move. If you're interested in more details about this plan, and about the SP1 feature set, I've written up a Windows Vista SP1 Preview article that goes into more detail.

Vista SP1 is currently in a limited beta and Microsoft will be expanding the beta pool in September to include those who previously beta tested Vista. In late 2007, the company will issue a public pre-release version of Vista SP1 to TechNet and MSDN subscribers.

The final announcement from last week concerns Windows XP SP3, another long awaited Microsoft service pack. As with Vista SP1, Microsoft had been pretty cagey about XP SP3, and had delayed the release several times. What's astonishing is that there's still some uncertainty around this release. Here's what we know: Microsoft intends to finally ship XP SP3 in the first half of 2008. It will mostly be an aggregation of previous service packs and all of the hot-fixes and security updates that have shipped since XP SP2. But that's where things get hazy: Microsoft will additionally add a number of small new features to XP via SP3, but the company has yet to firmly state what those updates are. My money is on security and OS hardening technologies, but that's just a guess.

This article originally appeared in the September 4, 2007 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE.