Microsoft has issued tools that let enterprises block the distribution of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) when the upgrade launches next year.
Such toolkits are standard practice by Microsoft, which regularly ships blockers prior to shipping major Windows, Internet Explorer (IE) and Office updates.
The appearance of the toolkit is another hint that Microsoft is getting close to releasing Windows 7 SP1. In 2009, the company issued a blocker for IE8 about two months before delivering the finished software.
Microsoft has not publicly set a ship date for Windows 7 SP1, saying only that it would release the service pack in the first quarter of 2011.
Windows 7 SP1 moved to "release candidate" (RC) status three weeks ago.
The updated toolkit offers business IT administrators three ways to block the download of Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, including an executable, a script and a group policy administrative template. All three set or clear a registry key on selected PCs that detects and then bars service pack downloads.
As it has before, Microsoft put a 12-month expiration date on the block. A year after the service packs' public release, Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will reach machines via Windows Update. PCs that have the update service set to automatically download and install important upgrades will then shift to the service pack.
The one-year interval is designed to give enterprises time to test the service packs before deploying them, while allowing other updates -- including security patches -- to reach systems in the interim.
Microsoft has downplayed the significance of Windows 7 SP1, noting several times that the upgrade will include "no additional new features specific to Windows 7." Instead, the update will comprise all of the fixes that have already been issued through Windows Update.
The toolkit can be downloaded from Microsoft's site.