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Microsoft Quietly Rolls out Vista Service Pack 1

Few service packs (SPs) have received more attention than Windows Vista SP1. Perhaps it's the general lack of confidence in Vista, or just high expectations for a release that will hopefully address some of the ongoing criticisms of the operating system. At least the controversy over SP1's availability has been settled: It's now available to all. Through my MSDN subscription, I got it before the official release for an early look.

Installation took less than an hour, during which my PC rebooted several times. But don't expect too much in the way of new features: This release targets performance, reliability and security.

Installations Issues
One thing you should note is that Microsoft has done away with the so-called kill switch, or reduced functionality mode. This function disabled the OS if it determined that it was no longer installed on the same system.

Instead, Microsoft has reverted to a nagging approach. If it detects what it considers a new system or an illegitimate configuration, it will remind you that the OS needs to be reactivated. The trouble is a combination of changes to the hard disk, memory and other system parameters detected by the OS can trigger that nag. Because I frequently make changes to my PCs, this is an annoyance I don't need.

Installing SP1 will also turn off Windows Defender and User Account Control. This may be disconcerting to less-technical users, because you'll have to turn them back on manually.

Performance is touted as a big advantage of this service pack, but the results here are mixed. In the first few days, you lose startup performance because all of your SuperFetch data, which is used to speed up performance, is cleared from your system. That eventually comes back. Other performance parameters, such as file transfers, launches and installs don't seem affected that much. Based on my testing, I couldn't make a generalization one way or the other about overall system performance.

No Major Improvement
Other new features include the ability to change the search tool to an alternative. You can also have BitLocker and the drive defragmenter choose a specific volume to work on.

Without extensive testing, it's difficult to get a feel for driver support, but my sense was to not expect too much in this area. My decade-old Lexmark printer didn't work with the original release of Vista. It still doesn't work with SP1.

It's not a major improvement like Windows XP SP2, but there's no apparent reason to not install it. If you don't see performance improvements, at least you'll have a bit more flexibility in how you make use of some of Vista's features.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.

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