Just as Windows 8 hits store shelves, a rumor is making the rounds that Microsoft may do away with any more Service Pack discs, at least for Windows 7. This makes sense on some levels, but it's a mistake on others.
A report in The Register cited unnamed sources who said there would be no second service pack for Windows 7, even though we are three years post the release of Win7 and right about now would be the time to release one. Microsoft declined to comment to the Register and to me on this issue.
Service Pack discs date back to Windows 2000, when Microsoft needed a convenient way to distribute a large number of fixes that had been issued since the release of the software. Back then, there was no Windows Update. You had to download fixes manually and install them yourself. So a service pack was invaluable.
But we're 12 years removed from Windows 2000 and automatic updates are delivered monthly over the Internet now. Service Pack 1 for Windows 7, and, really, SP3 for Windows XP, were just rollups of all the prior fixes in one convenient package.
The thing is, to do a service pack now when they are launching Windows 8 would be a distraction and a drain of engineering resources. And all you have to do is run Windows Update and you'll be brought up to date rather quickly, with maybe one reboot required if you've been slacking on updates.
But there are negatives to this decision as well. For starters, service contracts are often dated in relation to the service pack. That is, support ends after a set date. Service pack support ends on April 9, 2013, and mainstream support ends in 2015. With no service pack, the clock won't be reset. To some, this may look like Microsoft again trying to push us where we don't want to go; namely, Windows 8.
Then there's the fact that those service packs were a great way to update your install software. Paul Thurrott of the SuperSite for Windows has posted some very nice guides on how to take the service packs, update the Windows XP install discs, and create a new CD for installing an updated OS.
When Windows XP shipped in 2001, for example, it would not see a hard disk greater than 137GB in size (hard to imagine now, huh?), nor did it recognize USB 2.0. By slipstreaming XP to SP3, you created a newer install disc that would see a 500GB drive or larger and USB 2.0 ports and install the OS at the SP3 level, rather than install it at the original 2001 level and then force you to do all the upgrades.
Windows 7 has not needed any major fixes in its lifetime, but there are a lot of little patches out there. A fresh install is a pain no matter how you slice it, requiring multiple runs of Windows Update and reboots. The ability to make a slipstreamed Windows 7 SP2 install disc would be an invaluable time saver to everyone involved.
So I really hope this rumor turns out false, or Microsoft reconsiders.