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September 24, 2007

Experiencing Windows Vista Service Pack 1 Beta

Today Microsoft is releasing the Beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 which was announced by Nick White few weeks ago. I’d like to take the opportunity to share my very own experiences with Windows Vista SP1 Beta running on several PCs of my own.

I decided to test SP1 on a variety of hardware which allows me to test a variety of scenarios:

  • Desktop PC (Custom-made) running Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit.
  • Laptop (HP tx1000) running Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit.

The most common way the user will get SP1 will be through Windows Update. That is how I installed SP1 on the HP tx1000. Before getting to the SP1, a series of 3 prerequisites had to be installed first (It was 3 for me since I’m running Windows Vista Ultimate, but users who aren’t running Ultimate or Enterprise will only have 2 to install since BitLocker is not included in the other Windows Vista SKUs).  I talked to Product Manager David Zipkin who explained what these prerequisites are for. The first prerequisite includes updates to the servicing stack. The second prerequisite is an update for BitLocker-capable PCs (Windows Vista Enterprise and Windows Vista Ultimate) to ensure proper servicing of Bitlocker. And the third and final prerequisite includes some updates to Windows, necessary to install and uninstall the service pack.

With me being a power user, I went into the Windows Update control panel to install the service pack and prerequisites manually but most users have Windows Update configured to automatically install updates and so the prerequisites-like other updates-will automatically install, typically overnight.

Once the prerequisites are installed, you will then be able to proceed with updating to SP1 via Windows Update. David told me that Microsoft also intends to release some of these prerequisite updates ahead of the service pack, as part of normal monthly updates, so you shouldn’t see all these when you install the Service Pack.

When SP1 shows up in Windows Update, it does so as an “important update” and gives a size range from 51MB – 679.6MB. For me, the download of the service pack through Windows Update occurred relatively fast so I assume the size of SP1 is more on the lower end rather than the high. While SP1 is installing, I was able to continue working without any issue. Once SP1 finishes installing, Windows Update alerted me it must restart to finish the installation, allowing me to finish up my work to restart my PC.

On my Desktop PC, I decided to give the standalone installer for SP1 a try. The standalone installer is the version of SP1 offered as a single downloadable file in x86 and x64 flavors. Since I am running at 64-bit on my desktop PC, I chose the x64 standalone installer for SP1.The standalone installer is mainly used by IT administrators in a corporate network environment to roll out via SMS or other 3rd party management tools. In the case of Windows Vista SP1, the size of the standalone installer is noticeably larger than previous Service Packs in part due to the fact it accommodates for the 36 basic languages supported Windows Vista and all Windows Vista SKUs. This should make it easier for IT administrators to roll SP1 out to PCs running different languages on different SKU’s on their network. 1 file does it all. My experience installing SP1 with the standalone installer versus installing SP1 through Windows Update was pretty much the same, except the standalone installer also took care of installing the prerequisite packages for me.

With Windows Vista SP1, there have been several improvements to my user experience I think are worth sharing. The first thing I noticed after installing SP1 was the logon experience when logging into Windows Vista. In entering my password, and logging into my account, I noticed improvements to responsiveness that weren’t there before. On my desktop PC (which is joined to a domain) the improvements to the logon experience are even more noticeable. The delay between pressing CTRL-ALT-DELETE and getting the password prompt is pretty much gone.

After logging in to my PC – visually I saw no changes to the desktop shell. However, I did take notice to some minor tweaks to the UI in a few areas after some digging around. For example, the Search option has been removed from the Start menu.  More on this later…

There is also a new option in Windows Vista’s Disk Defragmenter allowing you to choose which volumes you would like to defragment.  On my desktop PC, I have two drives. With the changes noted here – I was able to choose specifically to defragment my second harddrive. This worked great.

And in the BitLocker Control Panel – users of Windows Vista Enterprise and Ultimate are now able to choose which drives to encrypt. Previously, the user was able to only choose the drive that contains Windows Vista (the boot partition).

Outside these minor tweaks to specific areas of UI – I didn’t see much new in the way of UI in SP1.

I’ve also taken notice to improvements in overall responsiveness of my PCs. Improvements were also noticeable in resuming from Hibernation or Sleep on both my desktop PC and laptop running SP1. I discovered copying files from one directory to another is a bit faster. And on my laptop – battery life seems to be improved since running SP1. I have also noticed that transferring files to my shares on my Windows Home Server are a bit faster than they were previously without SP1. Overall performance in accessing my mapped network shares is improved as well. I store quite a bit of data on my Windows Home Server so this was a huge plus for me. These are just some of the performance improvements I’ve seen running SP1 so far.

Back in June, I wrote about my experience running a dual-monitor setup with Windows Vista. Several readers commented on issues about connecting an external monitor up to a laptop running Windows Vista. SP1 includes improved reliability in connecting an external monitor to a laptop. Users can expect a better experience connecting an external monitor to their laptops as I’ve had a much better experience myself.

My wireless network experience is improved on my laptop. Prior to SP1, I had been experiencing issues in losing connectivity on my wireless home network and having to repair the connection (especially after resuming from Sleep or Hibernation). Since SP1, I’ve not had to repair my connection once.

After upgrading to SP1 on my two PCs, I’ve had no issues with any of my applications. On my HP tx1000, the VeriSoft Fingerprint software and HP Pavilion Webcam both continue to work great. Certified for Windows Vista apps Trend Micro AntiVirus 2007 and CorelDraw X3 also continue to work great as well. All of the new Windows Live betas released a few weeks ago (including the new Windows Live installer) work as advertised. Even the Windows Home Server Connector Console continues to work great.

Microsoft has recently published a KB article outlining changes to Windows Vista’s desktop search in SP1 but I’d like to elaborate a little bit based on my own experience with the changes. Windows Vista SP1 allows the user to change their default desktop search provider from the built-in Windows Desktop Search that ships with Windows Vista to another 3rd party desktop search provider. As noted above, the Search option has been removed from the right side of the Start menu. Users will also notice “See all results” has disappeared when doing a search via the Start menu. Instead, you will see “Search Everywhere”. Search Everywhere will launch whatever is the user’s default desktop search program.  In Windows Explorer, users will also see a “Search Everywhere” option in the toolbar as well.

These are just some personal notes on experiences I’ve had so far. Moving forward with SP1, expect to hear more on my experiences in the coming months. Microsoft is continuing to improve the user experience with Windows Vista both by SP1 and updates from Windows Update. Several months ago I wrote about how much I love Windows Update. Windows Update continues to offer updates to the user experience. Microsoft continues to pump device driver updates out to users through Windows Update as well. For me, it is exciting to see Microsoft continuing to utilize the potential Windows Update has in improving the Windows Vista user experience and SP1 is just one part in that plan.