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Windows Vista SP1 - What You Need To Know

Windows Vista SP1 Is Due Out 3/18Windows Vista SP1 Is Due Out 3/18

Windows Vista SP1 is set to release today, Tuesday March 18th. A service pack upgrade represents a significant change in the life cycle of a Windows Operating System. Many have delayed their switch to the new Windows until after the release of the first service pack. Well, the day has finally come. So do the changes implemented in SP1 suggest that a switch to Vista is now a good idea? I've made the upgrade myself and have also combed through much of the documentation on Microsoft's website to hopefully give you a better picture in to whether SP1 is worth the hassle of a switch from XP.

Windows service packs historically have not been the easiest things to download and install. Very typically they are large files (300 plus MB), take forever to download, and require a long, laborious installation procedure. Vista SP1 was no different weighing in at 450MB. For Automatic Update users, however, Microsoft has tried their best to fix the large file issue. They have implemented an efficient transfer mechanism that will download only the actual bytes that have changed - in most cases reducing the size of the download from 450MB to 65MB. The installation procedure hasn't gotten any easier either. The warning that is presented on the screen prior to beginning the installation says that the install process might take up to an hour and three reboots. This also was right on the money - it took me about fifty minutes to finish the installation and all three reboots were required.

Microsoft provides a fifty-five page document describing the changes to Windows with the installation of SP1. They break the improvements or bug fixes down into several categories. I've combed through the document and lumped in my experience in actually using SP1 to bring you this list of potential highlights:

  • Enhanced support for HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc drives as well as other potential Windows Media Center Extenders like digital TVs and networked DVD players.
  • SP1 addresses the most common issues reported by Windows Error Reporting.
  • Improves power consumption and thus battery life in laptops by allowing the processor to remain in a sleep state when the display is not changing, by fixing an issue where the hard disk would not spin down appropriately, and by fixing an issue with the video chipset not allowing the system to stay asleep.
  • Significantly improves performance of moving a directory with many files in it.
  • Significantly improves performance on file operations such as copy/cut and paste locally, to a USB device, and across the network.
  • Includes a new compression algorithm to improve Remote Desktop connections.
  • Adds full support for the latest IEEE draft of 802.11n wireless networking
  • Adds support for hotpatching: "...a reboot-reduction servicing technology designed to maximize uptime." Basically, for patches that are hotpatch-enabled, you don't have to reboot.
  • "Improves reliability of OS updates by making them more resilient to unexpected interruptions, such as power failure." Whatever that means...
  • You can select your default desktop search provider instead of using the built-in windows search. This means you can now use Google Desktop or another desktop search application.
  • SP1 reduces the number of User Account Control (UAC) prompts from 4 to 1 when you create or rename a folder in a protected location. After using SP1 for a little while, I think that this is true universally, it seems to me that the total number of times I see a UAC prompt has gone down.

I think perhaps the biggest improvement will lie in the one bullet point: "SP1 addresses the most common issues reported by Windows Error Reporting." I know I've sent in quite a few error reports myself with the hope that Microsoft would see enough trouble with the same action I was trying to accomplish to actually do something about it. In my experience over the past two weeks or so, Vista with SP1 seems to be much more stable than it was without.

The bottom line is, if you were waiting for a more stable Vista environment before making the jump, then this may be just the ticket you need to get you through the conversion from XP. However, if you were looking for the addition of killer features (or the removal of some of the less stellar ones) then you may still be disappointed. If you'd like to read through and get more information yourself, feel free to browse to Microsoft's informative site on Vista SP1 .