Microsoft has left the door open, if only a crack, to a change in how it gets SP1 to users.

Early Monday morning, Mike Nash, vice president of Windows product management, announced that Vista SP1 had reached RTM, or release to manufacturing, but he then added that the update would not be available to users via Windows Update, Microsoft's online Download Center, MSDN or TechNet until mid-March. Nash said the delay was due to an unspecified - and unnamed - number of device drivers that could stymie the update or give users problems.

Nash said that Microsoft will take the intervening weeks to identify as many of those drivers as possible prior to blocking SP1 updates from reaching PCs with any of those drivers installed.

Within minutes of Nash posting to the Vista team's blog, users began labeling the move as "stupid," "unbelievable" and "one of the all-time worst moves."

"[This] must be the stupidest announcement I have ever read," said a user identified as "Fredik70." "[Five] years to get Windows Vista ready, almost 1 1/4 years to get Service Pack 1 ready ... your pace at getting out new products must be the slowest in the industry. And now you are artificially making it even slower by just waiting, doing nothing, for six weeks. Unbelievable."

"Did you even run this past one person outside of Microsoft for input?" asked a user dubbed "ntpro." "This is going to be wildly rejected by your user community and most loyal supporters."

A few who left comments correctly predicted the future. "What do you think's gonna happen today/tomorrow?" asked a user tagged as "bn420" on Monday morning. "It will be on BitTorrent and other sites leaked." That's exactly what happened. Later Monday, Vista SP1 RTM, as well as Windows Server 2008's final code, started showing up in searches at BitTorrent tracker sites such as The Pirate Bay.

Others were incredulous that Microsoft was making them - the technically astute - wait while SP1's rollout was prepared for the masses. Many claimed that they knew what they were doing and that if they encountered a baulky device driver, they'd be able to handle it. Release Vista SP1 to Microsoft's download site, they said.

"Surely the more technical users are smart enough to get around the driver problem if it affects them and shouldn't have to wait because of other users," said "markm66." "That is just stupid."

"I can understand and even support not releasing it immediately to [Windows Update] to give IT folks and developers a head start, but not releasing it to the Download Center, MSDN, TechNet?" said "daedulus." "Effectively leaving all of us in the IT community who have helped test and work through the issues out in the cold for six more weeks?"

Several argued that the delay would hinder, not help, the adoption of Vista and in some cases cost them money. "As a partner, I need to see this stuff and get my testing done so I can try and make some inroads with my customers," said "summit_pcguy." "[Six] weeks to wait for a download is six more weeks that Microsoft won't sell Vista to businesses."

And "mwestbrook," who claimed to be an IT professional, argued for SP1's immediate release so testing could start. "I am disappointed that Microsoft does not see the benefit in releasing the update as a download for IT professionals," mwestbrook said. "Although six weeks is not long, it could be very valuable time to test SP1 in one's business environment."

Still others felt betrayed because they had taken the time to test the prerelease versions of Vista SP1, and they said Microsoft owed them something in return. "Beta testers, developers and the like, companies and enthusiasts, collectively we do a huge amount to help you develop and refine your software," said a user pegged as "bllr." "But when it comes to the crunch, you [don't provide an] early release mechanism for those who give you so much (often free) assistance."

Commenters even criticized Microsoft for slapping the "RTM" label on SP1 and questioned the company's nomenclature. "To announce RTM and then effectively say, 'We're working on it still' is contradictory, no?" said "colinbo." "Either it's done or it is not."

One industry analyst agreed. "This is a sloppy use of the vocabulary," said Michael Cherry at Directions on Microsoft. Cherry, who has slammed Microsoft before for its use of labels - service packs, product roll-ups, RTM - continued that thrust yesterday. "They've been playing fast and loose with terms for a while," he said. "There always has been this gap between RTM and general availability, and a variety of things Microsoft would commonly do, such as build the media, do necessary checks against the code and do antivirus checks.

"But now is appears we have a release to manufacturing that is not a release," Cherry continued. "Have you really passed your final testing when there are an unknown number of device driver problems?"

As of today, Microsoft was sticking to its SP1 schedule: a mid-March posting of SP1 to Windows Update and a mid-April time frame for the update to automatically download and install on PCs that were free of the problematic drivers. A company spokeswoman, however, added that MSND and TechNet subscribers will be offered a DVD containing the full version of Windows Vista SP1 early next month.

But there were hints that Microsoft might modify SP1's schedule. According to the comment thread on the Vista blog, the company is aware of the discontent. "I'm reading all comments posted here to Mike's entry and forwarding your sentiments on timing to the SP1 Release team," said Nick White, a Vista program manager who is the regular writer of the group's blog. He then left the door open, if only a thin crack.

"I, for one, understand where you're coming from and am making that case accordingly," he added. "If anything changes, we'll announce it here on the blog."

A change of heart by Microsoft may come too late to change the minds of some users. "What were you guys thinking?" asked "sholloon." "This is one of the all-time worst moves from a PR perspective you've ever made."