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Feature: Windows Vista SP1 explained

Everything you need to know about Vista SP1

Second, and this is often overlooked, is that the last Windows client service pack - 2004's XP SP2 - set the bar very high so high that expectations of what a service pack is have grown all out of proportion to what Microsoft will deliver. XP SP2 wasn't just a service pack. As defined until then, an Service Pack was little more than a collection of bug fixes and security patches, tested more thoroughly in the aggregate, but still a collection. XP SP2 changed that by making sweeping changes, most of them in the security arena, to the operating system. Remember, SP2 was the first service pack to be delivered by Windows Update - not only delivered, but force-fed to users. Because of XP SP2, there's much more made of Vista SP1 than if that 2004 update hadn't happened.

From Microsoft's description of Vista SP1, users expecting another XP SP2 will be disappointed. This is much more in the historical tradition of service packs. For that reason, expect to hear some SP1 backlash or pooh-poohing by users, analysts, bloggers and yes, maybe even a reporter or two.

How big is SP1?

At the moment, according to Microsoft, it's around 50MB in the form that will be squeezed through Windows Update and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). The actual size of the update is likely in the 684MB range of the build leaked last week to BitTorrent Inc. Microsoft managed to reduce the download by both compression and delivering only the file each specific PC needs. In comparison, Windows XP SP2 weighed in at 266MB.

The standalone service pack designed for businesses that want a way to update multiple machines is considerably larger: 1GB or so on the DVD. This is what enterprises using System Center Configuration Manager 2007 will deploy.

More to the point of size - except to those who still live and die by dial-up, to whom 50GB might as well be 50TB - is that installing SP1 requires what Microsoft characterises as "a large amount" of free space on the drive. How large? Try 7GB for 32bit, around 12GB for 64bit.

What's Microsoft removing from Vista with SP1?

This may be a first, but the service pack is actually subtracting from Vista, not just adding. According to the white paper Microsoft released this week: "The service pack will uninstall the Group Policy Management Console."

GPMC, which debuted with Windows Server 2003, is a one-stop console for setting operating system policies that, say, ban everyone in the office from downloading potentially poisonous .exe files. Instead, the older GPEdit.msc application will have to suffice, at least for a while. "In the SP1 timeframe," it said, "administrators can download an out-of-band release that will give them the ability to add comments to group policy objects (GPO) or individual settings and search for specific settings."

The 'out-of-band release' in that sentence refers to an enhanced version of GPMC, which will presumably be issued before, at the same time, or after SP1.

Why? Microsoft isn't saying much, except that "administrators requested features in Group Policy that simplify policy management".

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