Microsoft releases first Windows Vista Feature Pack

So I guess this is what you call teaching an old dog new tricks. A couple of days ago Microsoft released a new update for Windows Vista that adds additional wireless support and functionality to the operating system through a “feature pack”. Specifically it adds support for Bluetooth 2.1, a new “Unified Pairing” interface as well as “Windows Connect Now” updates and can only be installed on Vista SP1.

This is interesting to me not because any of the features above, but because up until now, the client version of Windows has never had “feature packs”. We have hotfixes, security patches, service packs and rollups, but not feature packs. What are they?

Upon a little investigation (Google Search, first search), it’s apparent feature packs are quite abundant for Windows Server. To be exact, there are 16 feature packs for Windows Server 2003 which adds a variety of functionality to the server. In essence, they provide new features to an existing operating system as a standalone update. Someone smarter than me might have came to that conclusion just by looking at the name and I envy you.

Nevertheless I ponder if this is just a one-off solution or a sign of things to come. Traditionally these sort of updates would have been included in service packs, probably because they don’t want users waking up one day finding all sorts of major changes have been silently installed via the automatic update systems. On the other hand, service packs are becoming less frequent and that results in new technology support to fall behind between (long) Windows releases.

This update in particular in itself is something out-of-the-ordinary. For example I’ve never known a Windows update (standalone or automatic) in the past to change user interface, maybe even as far as to say it’s not “allowed”.

As a geek who lives on the bleeding edge of technology, this is exciting for Windows. How much of a role will feature packs play? We’ll have to wait and see I guess.

Update: The Microsoft terminology page describes feature packs as “new product functionality that is first distributed outside the context of a product release and that is typically included in the next full product release.”

Update2: Microsoft has said it will not distribute this update over Windows Update, and will only be available via OEMs.

34 insightful thoughts

  1. The feature packs would be nice, especially if MS would decide to provide Vista shell refinements this way. They used to push shell features with IE releases back in late 90′s, but nowadays the browser is no longer used as vehicle to provide core OS updates. We’ll see…

  2. oh right thanks. i thought this feature pack is being distributed on windows update as we speak.

    so this means ill only get this update if sony (which is my notebook from) distributes that over their support site?

  3. well, the Windows Media Player updates (from XP to 10 to 11) & the IE updates (6 to 7 to 8beta) added features to XP. SP2 added core OS features. Windows Live practically adds many Vista-like “features”. .NET 3.5 is also practically a new “feature”. So, over-all, XP has features added out-of-sync with other schedules. They just never called them/bundled them as packs. (Also all that MovieMaker, Media Player etc. add-on stuff & the powertoys)

  4. “This is interesting to me not because any of the features above, but because up until now, the client version of Windows has never had “feature packs”.

    On the contrary Long, past versions of Windows client did have Feature Packs, for instance, Windows NT 3.51 received an update that applied the Windows 95 shell to Program Manager. Microsoft also ended Feature Packs for Windows with the release of Windows NT 4.0 SP3. Jim Allchin’s decision was based on customer feedback to make Service Packs from then on only include hotfixes, security patches, service packs and rollups.

  5. Didn’t anyone remember that there were “Plus!” packs released for various Windows versions? I think I had one for Windows 95/98 and I am sure I had two for Windows XP. That was definitely a feature pack, but it cost about $20 for each pack. I still loved them though, as they added features that were “cutting edge” for that time like Windows Party Mode and better CD burning modules.

  6. My notebook is from Acer, and Acer don’t have any news about this at all on their site. I guess it’ll take a while for OEM’s to provide this. But then this Feature Pack wont be available for people with custom built pcs? *disappointed*

  7. Exactly, feature packs is what need to overcome the problem of 3 year Windows releases, and make customers feel what they’re receiving something bonus and of value. Now, why can’t they update desktop features like Windows Calendar, Windows DVD Maker, Sidebar through feature packs? Probably, because there is no team dedicated to their development. They just developed it once upon a time during Vista’s development. Compare this to OS X updates, which ship new features AND bug fixes for OS components.

  8. It is highly likely that the next feature pack will be Windows Vista Media Center Feature Pack 2008, currently in beta and scheduled for release in the second half of this year.

  9. @Brian

    Microsoft Plus! for Windows ended with the release of Windows Vista which included an Ultimate edition that provided similar services and add ons that were available in Plus! But the catch is, you have to be a licensed user of the Ultimate edition of Vista unlike XPs Plus! which was available for all editions.

    @someone

    Please note that the built in applications in OS X you mentioned, are updated with the release of a new version of the OS. Apple does not update iCal, DVD Player, Mail during the interim. Vista for instance provided a successor to Windows Mail and Windows Photo Gallery with the release of Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Photo Gallery.

    Apps that come built in Windows Vista like Windows DVD Maker, Windows MovieMaker on the Mac side you have to pay for updates to those through the iLife multimedia suite for $79, in Vista, you get similar products for free, eg. Photo Gallery. What tends to fool most persons is you get iLife with the purchase of every Mac. Thats why OS X seems a lot cheaper.

    I am sure in the next release of Windows client, Microsoft will again update the built in applications you mentioned.

  10. I’d assume, with my lack of expertise, that this feature pack may be available to those that need it through Windows Update sometime in the not-too-distant future…

  11. @Chakkaradeep, contact Microsoft support, and they will put it on an FTP page for you to DL it :)

    This has happened to me with MANY KB articles.

  12. I remember beta testing this add-on… we were all like “so whats in it?!” but the Microsoft beta team couldn’t really tell us!! — mind you, they were just the one’s handling the beta testers and not the programmers or anything. It’s a worthwhile install as connecting to wireless networks is much easier… let alone the bluetooth improvements. I still think it should have been included in SP1.

  13. @Cullen, Could you please give me the email on whom to contact? I am not able to get the email for contact :(

    (You can contact me via my blog, just click on my username and it will take you to my blog :D )

  14. Interesting news. My only issue would be that feature packs should be available to those with Vista Ultimate liscenses through windows update and not just through OEM’s……….

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