Microsoft Service Packs: A necessity before you deploy?

The recent Excel 2007 rounding bug has made me grateful that I haven't yet deployed Office 2007 on my network. I find myself asking 'What's to gain from rolling out Microsoft's products before the release of their first Service Pack?'

In case you hadn't heard, Microsoft watchers have been abuzz over the Excel display bug discovered a couple of weeks ago. Members of the Excel team tried to reassure users by posting an explanation of the bug in this blog entry, maintaining that even if certain decimal values are displayed incorrectly on the spreadsheet, the associated values in memory—the values used in calculations—are correct. Most commenters on the post seemed to take this as cold comfort, and it's easy to understand why. We count on our spreadsheet app to do the arithmetic for us, so the idea that its calculations might be incorrect is scary. Protesting that Excel's bug is just a display error doesn't help much either, because that asks users to ignore the evidence of their senses. We're not very good at that. Once noticed, such blemishes just can't be un-seen.

The Excel devs released a patch for the display bug on Tuesday, which is a good thing for those who are using Office 2007. For my part, I'm glad that I hadn't widely installed Office 2007 on my network, because I would have probably responded by beginning an initiative to rollback to Office 2003. That product has been really stable for us, even though it's not the latest and greatest. The same goes for Windows XP. We're going to be staying with that version for a while yet, and apparently we're not alone since MS has recently announced plans to continue selling XP for several more months. The software giant wouldn't do that if there weren't overwhelming demand from their most important customers.

The adage has always been that businesses won't upgrade to new software products until they can be proven stable. I'm seeing the wisdom of that practice now more than ever, between Vista disappointments and glaring Office 2007 flaws. Even though there are some improvements I find attractive in Microsoft's new products, I'll be waiting until their planned service packs are released before deploying them in earnest. My users rely on me to provide them with a supportive and stable environment, and I won't risk their confidence merely to chase new features. Not until Microsoft's flagship products have earned more of my confidence.