Vista SP1 Heads into the Home Stretch

While Microsoft has yet to set the final release date for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), the company this week provided some new information about the various performance improvements that will accompany this first major update to its latest desktop operating system. Windows Vista SP1 will speed file copy operations dramatically, improve battery life on many portable computers, and vastly improve application compatibility, especially with the enterprise applications that have been blocking business deployments of the system to date.

In a briefing with various members of the Vista team this week, I was told about a number of late-breaking improvements that SP1 will bring. Microsoft views SP1 as an update that removes any remaining deployment blockers that remain a year after Vista first shipped broadly to customers.

SP1 improves Vista in a number of ways. Device compatibility is up dramatically, from a bit over 40,000 compatible devices to just under 80,000 devices today with pre-release versions of SP1. The number of logoed devices--devices that are certified by Microsoft to work properly with Vista--is also up dramatically, from about 2000 at launch to over 17,000 today. Microsoft director Chris Flores pointed out to me that the improvements to Vista's drivers are limited to sheer numbers, either: Improvements to video, audio, and other drivers have actually improved the battery life on laptops from several major PC makers by an average of 7 percent.

Application compatibility, too, improves significantly with SP1. While this area includes consumer-oriented applications, incompatible enterprise applications were the big deployment blockers over the past year. In the past year, Microsoft and its partners have remediated over 150 enterprise application blockers: These are applications that previously prevented one or more corporations from upgrading to Vista.

Reliability is up in Vista SP1, too, Microsoft says. Flores described the company's telemetry data, which allows it to analyze various system disruptions in Vista, including such things as non-responding applications, application hangs and crashes, and system crashes. Compared to the release version of Vista, SP1 more than doubled the mean number of hours between disruptions, from about 17 hours to about 34 hours.

One of the biggest complaints users have had with Windows Vista concerns file copy operations, both locally on a single PC and over networks. Microsoft isolated the cause of these and provides the fixes in SP1. A number of areas are affected, including the performance of file copy operations and system responsiveness during these operations. According to the latest data, file copy operations are 44 to 71 percent faster with SP1 than they were under the original version of Vista. Microsoft has also improved the speed at which Vista resumes from Sleep or Hibernation in SP1.

Security is another oft-discussed aspect of Vista, and Microsoft points to a number of recent studies of the system compared to rival OSes and its own predecessor, Windows XP. "Users are far less likely to be infected with malware or spyware on Vista," Flores told me. "We're really happy how Vista stacks up, security-wise." One interesting item that came up during the development of SP1: The highly-criticized User Account Control (UAC) feature in Vista only needed to be changed in two small ways for SP1 because Microsoft's data shows that the majority of consumer sessions don't require any UAC prompts at all after the first 30 days of use.

As for the final version of SP1, Microsoft will only say that it's still on track to deliver SP1 sometime during this quarter. "We're definitely in the home stretch," Flores said, noting that feedback from a recent Vista SP1 Release Candidate (RC) Refresh 2 release would help determine the exact schedule and whether another pre-release update is required. "It's looking really good," he added.

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