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Operating systems software Reviews
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Windows Vista SP2 beta review

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Manufacturer: Microsoft

In the initial beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2), the changes made aren't immediately obvious. And even the under-the-hood changes are incremental rather than earth shattering.

In the initial beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2), the changes made aren't immediately obvious. And even the under-the-hood changes are incremental rather than earth shattering.

Microsoft says that the Vista SP2 fixes compatibility problems with the third-party Spy Sweeper and ZoneAlarm security applications, offers enhanced hardware support for Direct X, improved Wi-Fi connections after a system resumes from sleep, improved Windows Search, and added support for the newest Bluetooth specification (2.1). SP2 also rolls up all previous Windows Vista updates.

In addition, Microsoft says that the RSS gadget now uses fewer resources, that it has added support for burning Blu-ray discs, and that a new feature called Windows Connect Now (WCN) makes it simpler to configure Wi-Fi networks.

But in reality, what's really new in Windows Vista SP2 is somewhat murky. For example, support for Bluetooth 2.1 and WCN have been available since July, via what Microsoft calls the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless.

That feature pack was available only to system manufacturers, not users, so perhaps Microsoft means that with SP2 these wireless features are now directly available to consumers for the first time. But anyone who has a Vista PC purchased from a system manufacturer that includes the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless already has WCN and support for Bluetooth 2.1.

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Windows Vista SP1 review

Windows Vista SP2: Installation

You have several choices for installing Vista SP2, including via Windows Update, as a stand-alone installer or by downloading an .iso image file, which you can then burn to a DVD and install from the DVD.

Initially, the Windows Vista SP2 beta was available only on MSDN and TechNet before public release, and at that point was available only as an .iso image. We downloaded the image, but had troubles with installation.

The first .iso image burner we used, the free ImgBurn application, said it could not handle that particular .iso image. We had used this software to install .iso images before during the original Vista installation cycle, so this was odd.

Next, we tried Nero 7 to burn an image. It had trouble as well - when the burning was complete, the only file on our DVD was an .ini file and nothing else, so we couldn't install the beta. We never found out the source of the problem. Given that the .iso file is now in public beta and no outcry has been heard, the problem, if any, has most likely been fixed.

When the Windows Vista SP2 beta became public, we used the stand-alone installer, which was a 397MB download. Installation went smoothly, albeit slowly. After creating a System Restore point, the entire installation took an hour and required only a single reboot. It proceeded unattended. It was as simple an update as you could ask for.

If you install the Windows Vista service pack 2 beta via Windows Update, the download is considerably smaller - about 41 MB.

NEXT PAGE: Windows Vista SP2 anomolies

See also: Windows Vista: the definitive review

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Microsoft Windows Vista SP2 Expert Verdict »
Windows Vista with SP1 or Windows Server 2008 with SP1
800MHz processor
512MB system memory
DirectX 9.0-compatible graphics processor

Should you install Windows Vista SP2 now? Unless you have some need to do it because you're a systems administrator - or if you're one of those people who has a burning desire to test new software, no matter its usefulness - there's no need to try it out now. In fact, you shouldn't try it, because you may run into problems, as we did, with your wireless adaptor. You'll be better off to wait until the expected April ship date when it's supposed to be fully baked.

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