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The tip, incredible. The source, ironclad. Microsoft has apparently told executives at one of the world's largest PC makers not to expect a formal release of Windows Vista SP1 — the first major set of upgrades and bug fixes to its Vista operating system — until 2009 at the earliest. That explains why Microsoft was so desperate to correct erroneous reports, spread by a careless team of developers at Microsoft, that a beta version of SP1 would be out last week. Microsoft now says it "currently anticipates" a beta of SP1 later this year. Anticipations, of course, are not always met. Especially if you're a sluggish beast like Microsoft, with thousands of developers to keep in train on a release. And this delay would have wide aftershocks.

The rumored delay in SP1, of course, means that it would be impossible for Microsoft to deliver its next version of Windows by 2010, as Windows watcher Mary Jo Foley believes. At ZDNet, David Berlind asks the smart question: Will any future version of Windows matter, as developers and users shift to the Web? Any delays in SP1, of course, make subsequent releases less and less relevant.

The delays in Vista, and its lack of must-have features, have already infuriated Microsoft's most important partners, the PC makers who preinstall most copies of Windows sold. Gianfranco Lanci, CEO of Acer, the fourth-largest PC maker, has broken the code of silence, telling the FT Deutschland newspaper that "the entire industry is disappointed by Vista." Historically, new releases of Windows have provided a boost to PC sales. Not so with Vista, Lanci contends.


And if PC makers have to wait two years for SP1, and more than that for the next version of Windows? Apple's marketers will have a field day. And the notion of a mass-market Linux PC, once ludicrous, will look more and more plausible.