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Feature: Windows Vista SP1 explained

Everything you need to know about Vista SP1

Vista, who cares? What's the deal with the next service pack for Windows XP?

Glad you asked. Microsoft, which has been avoiding the topic of XP SP3 even more judiciously than Vista SP1, confirmed that it will dual release the last rollup of the I'm-not-dead-yet XP "in a few weeks" or "in September". And it hasn't changed the long-stated, long-in-the-tooth schedule of sometime during the first six months of 2008 for a final release.

Here's the situation on XP SP3. "It is a standard practice to release a service pack as a release nears end-of-life for the convenience to our customers and partners," said Microsoft. "Windows XP SP3 is rollup of previously released updates for Windows XP including security updates, out-of-band releases and hot fixes. It will also contain a small number of new updates. This should not significantly change the Windows XP experience."

Smell like an obituary to you? It's almost as if Microsoft's embarrassed by how well XP's hanging in there. In fact, we don't believe for a minute that Microsoft, which has previously set a drop-dead date of January 30, 2008, for manufacturers to preinstall XP on new PCs - and January 30, 2009 as the similar deadline for smaller-scale system builders - will actually follow through on those deadlines, what with SP3 coming down the pike sometime between the two. Microsoft will likely smell the XP coffee, and extend at least the manufacturer deadline.

Back to Vista. What's in SP1?

Microsoft breaks down the contents into three categories:

- Reliability and performance updates
- Administrative improvements
- Newfound support for some of the newer standards

It'll also include all the updates, patches and non-patches that have been released between Vista going RTM (release to manufacturing) late last year and now, or whatever as-yet-unknown cut-off date Microsoft plans to establish. Several security-related changes that don't easily fit into any of the above categories will be in there, too.

Tell me more.

The company white paper lists what Microsoft claims will be in SP1, but there aren't many surprises in the reliability and performance section. Vista will play better with more graphics cards, work better with more printers - two major hardware clans with which Vista has been notoriously flaky - come out of and drop into sleep and/or hibernation more reliably (ditto), run Internet Explorer without chewing up as many CPU cycles, and copy files faster.

The BitLocker drive encryption tool within some Vista offerings - Ultimate and Enterprise only - has been updated so it can encrypt any local drive, not just the primary, or c:, drive. And the Network Diagnostics tool has been enhanced, says Microsoft.

On the new support side, SP1 adds support for the exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) file system, which is used on flash-based storage devices, typically on Microsoft CE-based devices. The 64bit version of Vista SP1 also adds Extensible Firmware Interface support, letting 64bit PCs network boot with this BIOS replacement. 'Network boot', by the way, refers to cranking up a PC remotely and often applies to diskless clients that run their operating system and applications off the network.

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