Windows Vista SP1 Available Now--Do You Need It?

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.

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