Vista SP1 offers no features, focuses on tweaks, security

Unlike XP's SP2, this service pack offers mainly under-the-hood changes

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), just delivered to a group of approximately 12,000 beta testers, offers no dramatic interface changes, nor does it add new features to the operating system. Instead SP1 focuses on improving performance, reliability and application compatibility, and it extends support to emerging hardware such as the exFAT file system that will be used by flash memory storage and consumer devices. However, SP1 does change the way Windows search works, allowing third-party programs such as Google Desktop Search to integrate more easily into the operating system.

Microsoft plans to release the final version of SP1 in the first quarter of 2008.

Those who hoped that SP1 would introduce new features or interface improvements, as was done with Windows XP SP2, will be disappointed. David Zipkin, product manager for Vista SP1, said that the company's goal has been to focus on operating system improvements rather than on interface changes or new features.

He added that Windows XP SP2 was an anomaly in that it made some significant changes to the way that Windows XP looked and worked. Those changes were made in response to emerging Internet threats, he said. Vista SP1, he said, is a return to a more traditional Microsoft approach towards service packs --- that they should focus on performance and reliability rather than on new features.

Many corporate customers appear to be waiting for SP1 to ship before they move to Vista, and when the service pack ships, it may boost Vista's adoption rate, which many observers have called sluggish.

Performance, reliability, security and search

Windows Vista SP1 will address many of the performance and reliability issues that some Vista customers have complained about. Microsoft claims that SP1 will speed up copying and extracting files, make PCs return more quickly from Hibernate and Resume modes, and improve laptop battery life by reducing CPU utilization. In addition, the company said that SP1 will fix problems that Windows Vista has encountered with newer graphics cards, improve networking and improve reliability when a PC enters or resumes from sleep. Browsing network file shares is expected to consume less bandwidth and perform more quickly.

Microsoft also stressed that security will also be enhanced because SP1 addresses a complaint from third-party security vendors that they can't easily hook into the Windows Security Center. In SP1, Microsoft said, vendors will have a more secure way to communicate with the Windows Security Center.

In addition, as an extension of Microsoft's 2002 antitrust settlement with US government regulators, Microsoft has made it easier for third-party programs, such as Google Desktop Search, to replace Windows' built-in search technology. The Search link has been removed from the Start menu, and there are now ways to easily select a new search tool as the default for Windows search.

Support for new hardware

SP1 will add support for emerging hardware standards that are expected to become more important in the future. The exFAT file system, which will be used by flash memory storage and consumer devices, will now work with Vista. SP1 will also add support for Secure Digital (SD) Advanced Direct Memory Access (DMA), which is expected to be on SD host controllers. This will increase transfer rates and decrease CPU use, according to Microsoft. SP1 will also add support for Direct3D 10.1, so that games developers will be able to take greater advantage of Direct3D graphics.

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Administrative changes

Systems administrators should be aware that SP1 makes changes in the way system administrators manage Group Policy. SP1 uninstalls the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC). By default, GPEdit.msc will be used to edit local group policy. When SP1 is released, administrators will be able to download a new tool for adding comments to group policy objects and individual settings and for searching for specific GPO settings. However, that tool will not be released until SP1 ships. Until then, administrators who install SP1 and want to use features previously offered by GPMC will have to open a remote desktop session to the server or to a PC running a non-SP1 version of Vista.

Deployment plans

When finalized, SP1 will be delivered in several ways. Existing Vista users will get it delivered via Windows Updates or from the Windows Update site. It is expected to be approximately 50MB in size. SP1 will also be delivered as a stand-alone installer. In either case, the installation will require 7GB of free hard disk space on 32-bit PCs or 12GB of hard disk space on 64-bit PCs. That space, however, will only be used temporarily during the installation process; most of it will be regained when the installation is finished.

SP1 will also be available via "slipstream" -- integrated into the version of Windows Vista sent to PC makers and in the retail version of the operating system. In addition, slipstream media will be available to volume-licensing customers.