A Closer Look: Beta Vista Service Pack 1

With dissatisfaction over the Vista operating system persistent, can Microsoft right the OS's wrongs with its upcoming Vista service pack?

My Informal Tests

In my informal evaluation of the Vista SP1 beta, installation on my system was time-consuming, taking nearly 3 hours for downloading and installing a couple of new (and required) pre-SP1 updates; and downloading and installing SP1 itself (which involves several reboots). Microsoft doesn't recommend installing the beta SP1 on your mission-critical PC, and I couldn't agree more.

Many of Microsoft's promised performance gains were negligible on my machine. I ran a number of tests before I installed SP1 and after. The only tasks that were noticeably speedier were those that involved transferring files.

Transferring a 585MB folder (116 files) over a wired (Ethernet) network from a Linux-based network-attached storage device to my Vista desktop went 30 percent faster post-SP1. Moving a 4.6GB folder (972 files) from my PC's C to D drives went 11 percent faster. Extracting a compressed zipped archive took only slightly less time.

I wasn't able to test Microsoft's SP1 improvements that pertained to improved compatibility. The closest I came suggested SP1 could have an adverse impact on select software programs. When I installed SP1 on my test machine I found that at least one program stopped working and produced a software driver error message (). I asked Microsoft for comment on this problem, but no one has gotten back to me.

Microsoft did deliver on a promise to fix a PC hibernation problem that wouldn't allow some PCs stay asleep. SP1 seems to have cleared up that issue for me.

Ho-Hum Release Candidate

Perhaps what is most notable about this SP1 release is what it doesn't include. Vista SP1 delivers no new features comparable to those in XP's first service pack.

And there's so much to fix. Where is a much-needed update to Windows Genuine Advantage? How about an update to Vista search? (By default the OS indexes only the folders found in your user-name folder (including Documents, Pictures, and Music). An interface update to Vista's Sidebar and its RSS reader and other widgets would also be nice.

To Microsoft's credit, it is addressing some Vista complaints outside of the SP1 release process. For example Microsoft now offers greater support for virtualization with Vista Home Basic and Home Premium.

But improving Vista performance on low-end PCs remains the elephant in the SP1 room. Throw enough hardware at Vista, and it runs almost like a champ. SP1 would have been more meaningful if it had addressed performance on low-end PCs.

Given the time it takes to install, Microsoft's warning about SP1 not being ready yet for prime time (regular use), and its current underwhelming list of improvements, I don't recommend this beta of SP1 for general PC users. Wait for the final version.

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