Service Pack 1: will it deliver Vista to its glory?

Microsoft released Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP, last year to the thunderous sound of one-hand clapping. Bloated, buggy, and an upgrade most couldn’t justify, it has beaten the abominable Windows ME to the punch as the weakest Microsoft operating system ever, and that’s saying something.

But Microsoft is neither willing, nor able to abandon Vista. Like it or not, Vista will be the only OS going forward. Of course, if you care to recall, people also complained about XP being buggy and bloated when it was released, and Microsoft has tweaked it into the high water benchmark it is today. The same will hopefully happen with Vista.

Microsoft says they’ve been listening, and have good news for us. Just as XP needed two service packs to really get into its groove, Vista, Microsoft says, will find its cure in its service packs.

The first one, called SP1, is hitting the market this week (March 18, 2008).

It offers fixes and enhancements that answer many of the complaints that users have had with Vista.

Here are some of the major problems users have with Vista right now.

  1. Drivers are easier to find than they were last year, but Vista drivers are still a problem for many users of older systems that can run Vista, but have parts that might not have Vista drivers for them. If you are unsure on how to update your drivers, be sure to read our How to update a driver article.
  2. Vista is sloooooow. When it comes to moving files around on your computer, Vista is about as peppy as a sedated snail. This is especially true when moving files off of those little USB Thumb drives.
  3. Vista is also unable to run some older programs. For many what good was it to have a new OS, when you had to throw out you favorite programs to use it. This is a big part of why many users still run XP, or even Windows 98! Why should we have to buy new software, when the original still works great?
  4. No one likes that annoying Allow/Deny pop up box. Apple saw fit to parody it in their ads, and rightfully so. It’s annoying to have to stop every so often to click two or three boxes when installing or running a program!
  5. And after all that, Vista is still buggy! Program crashes and error messages occur a lot more often than people were used to with XP.

Now, let’s have a look at what SP1 fixes:

Improved drivers:

Vista will have support for about 80,000 devices, as opposed to 40,000 at the Vista launch. This will make upgraders a lot happier than those who found that they had a computer that was installed with Vista, but lacked sound or stable video drivers.

Faster file transfers:

One of the biggest issues people had with Vista was its poor file transfer speeds. Some studies of pre-release versions of SP1 have shown a 20-40% speed improvement over the original release of Vista.

Better support for older programs:

SP1 will also improves compatibility and support for older software. SP1 will allow users to tweak how Vista runs older programs, so that people don’t have to sacrifice their favorite programs to make the switch.

Improved security:

If Vista has one thing going for it, it’s better security features. Most of the security improvements in Vista are not as obvious as the annoying User Account Control (UAC) feature that popped up Continue or Cancel prompts. UAC will still be around, but now its less annoying. But these security improvements will also make Vista will harder to infect with viruses and spyware.


Vista was almost as buggy as Windows 95 when it was released. SP1 will go a long way to make sure that Vista is as rock solid as the OS it is supposed to replace.

Windows Genuine Advantage:

Vista was not terribly hard to trick when it came to people using illegal copies of it on their computers. But when Vista caught on, it was game over for most. For most users, they could boot into Safe Mode, and use the web for about 60 minutes. They could not do updates, and generally had to either reinstall Vista, or go back to XP. Ironically, SP1 will make it possible to use Vista even after it has been deemed to not be a genuine copy. All that will happen is that every hour you’ll lose your background image, and be nagged to buy a genuine copy. For those who have a legal copy, this will not even be an issue. But for those who are victims of fraud, this will at least allow them to use their systems until they can get the issue resolved.

Patches and fixes:

Most of the fixes released up to the release of SP1 will be rolled into SP1. That means that those doing a reformat and reinstall will get all of the updates in one shot.

Direct X 10.1:

A big whoop-de-doo to most; DirectX 10.1 will offer a few tweaks to those running high-end video cards and playing the latest games. DirectX 10 is slowly becoming more common, but still has a long way to go to be a must have feature for PC gamers.

Kernel patch protection:

This sounds like a lot of techno jargon, but it’s actually pretty important to most people. This idea was introduced with Vista, and is further improved with SP1. What it all means is that programs won’t be able to dig their fingers as deeply into Vista, as they did with Windows XP. Antivirus programs from McAfee and Symantec were notorious for making deep changes to XP, causing a lot of headache for users of other programs. What this means is that you can now install any program, and know it won’t mess up other programs on your computer.

Now that all sounds great and wonderful. But be warned. Like any big change to an operating System, there are some downsides. SP1 has been shown in early testing to break some programs, such as some security and antivirus programs. Until SP1 has been out for a while, there may be quite a few programs that won’t work with it installed. Microsoft is aware of this and has published this list of Vista SP1-incompatible programs.

Having said that, SP1 won’t bring lots of users to the Vista fold. If you have Vista, and all seems to be running well, you might want to hold off until things settle down a bit. If any of the SP1 fixes apply to you, and you don’t own any of the affected programs, you should be OK to download SP1. Either way, eventually you will have to install SP1 for future updates (Microsoft will push a download to you in April 2008), but by then we can only hope that Vista lives up to its promise.

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