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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Microsoft releases Windows Vista SP1 which improves reliability, security and performance

Microsoft Windows Vista SP1 is available through Windows Update service and retailers. The Service Pack 1 is free to download beginning Tuesday.

Online retailer Amazon is also taking pre-orders for boxed copies of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which it said it will start shipping Wednesday.

The software giant previously announced plans to post SP1 to its Windows Update site and to its download center in mid-March, then push out the upgrades in mid-April to computer users who have set their PCs to receive automatic updates.

Vista SP1 improves Vista's reliability, security and performance. Some early testers of the service pack have noticed improvement in performance when copying files over a network and playing video games that weren't designed for Vista.

Windows Vista SP1 Available Now
After considerable rumor and speculation, numerous false starts, and not a small amount of frustration on the part of consumers, Microsoft has released Windows Vista Service Pack 1 into the wild.

The bundle of updates, which includes all updates released for the OS since its debut in February 2007, is now available for download via Microsoft's Windows Update service.

The easiest way to get your hands on Vista SP1 is to sit back, relax, and let Microsoft Update grab it for you. However, if you can't wait, you can get the standalone update in a 32-bit version or a 64-bit version.

Mixed Results

PC World's in-house tests with the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version of Vista SP1 have shown mixed results. In file copying tests, the service pack proved noticeably faster than the original Vista OS. Other tests, on the other hand, showed little improvement (or actually performed worse than Vista without the service pack). For instance, our preliminary file compression tests showed a decrease in performance with SP1 installed.

Overall, we found Microsoft's claims of dramatic performance enhancements to be somewhat overstated. PC World continues to evaluate the performance impact of Vista SP1, and more test results will be forthcoming.

Microsoft promises performance and power consumption improvements in many aspects of the Vista user experience, including better performance while browsing network file shares, improved power consumption, faster loading of large images, and faster searches.

In addition to intended performance improvements, Service Pack 1 comes with a number of low-level enhancements such as support for the Extensible Firmware Interface and Extended File Allocation Table. It also includes improved compatibility with some hardware and software. Many users will be pleased to find that SP1 also removes the reduced functionality mode that disables computers which have not been activated through Microsoft.

Who Needs Vista SP1?
Third-party software companies will have mixed reactions to SP1. While it will open up access to the built-in search functionality for third-party desktop search apps, it has already raised problems for some third-party security software vendors whose utilities have been disrupted by the update.

On the security front, the service pack enables single sign-on for authenticated wired networks, which should streamline the end user experience in enterprise environments, in addition to many other updates.

While most users are likely to find Vista SP1 benign (if not beneficial), some organizations--such as large corporate IT departments--may wish to wait a while before deploying this software update. To do so, administrators should download the Windows Service Pack Blocker Tool, which will prevent the service pack from being installed. This tool creates a registry key entry that can be later removed by the administrator, and can be run remotely across a network.


Windows Vista SP1 is available for download
After a lot of talking about the deployment of the first Service Pack for Windows Vista, the company has finally released it to the general public.

The update is available through Windows Update in the traditional fashion, but it's also available as a standalone download at Microsoft's Download Centre for those that don't want to have to download it every time they reinstall Vista.

The standalone download for 32-bit systems weighs in at 434.5MB, while the 64-bit version is much bigger at 726.5MB.

For now, the update is only available to users of English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish – other languages are expected to follow shortly. However, Microsoft hasn't detailed the rollout for language support in other localities yet.

For those wondering what has changed in Windows Vista Service Pack 1, there is a 17-page change log, which outlines the fine details of the new build.

The improvements include support for the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on 64-bit versions of the OS, DirectX 10.1, and exFAT – a new file system supporting larger overall capacity and larger files, which will be used in Flash memory storage and consumer devices. There are many more improvements and fixes, but I'll save you from a massive list and let you go and read them if you're especially interested.

We'll be rolling the update out across our test systems over the coming days and weeks – we'll bring you a comparative performance article while we're at it too. In the meantime though, you can discuss your experiences with the update in the forums.

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