Thursday, February 07, 2008

Windows Vista Service Pack 1: You might want to wait and see...

As IT consultants, my partner and myself embraced Vista from the day it hit the shelf. After spending years troubleshooting Windows XP to the point that we can do it in our sleep, we were very much ready to tackle the new operating system and looked forward to beating Vista into submission, until it did what we wanted, the way we wanted it. Personally, we had resounding success on our own machines. Other than a brief excursion into the 64-bit OS version, which we easily determined wasn't ready for market, we were (and remain) very satisfied with our Vista Ultimate installations. Additionally, much to the horror of dedicated XP power-tweakers, Vista is going to be the ONLY solution available as of June of this year. After June 30, 2008, there will be no more sales of new PC's running XP. Sorry y'all.. it's dead, but that's another topic in itself. Back to the point of the story.


Customers often call us before making new PC purchases or ask us to purchase machines for them. Part of that process invariably involves parties screaming not to be forced into Windows Vista, to which we usually rebut "Have you tried it?" Most claim that they haven't and then cite the myriad of troubles they have heard of from others, from reading the web news, from reading message boards, etc. Few however have ever admitted to trying it before denying the possibility that it could help them better operate their business or perform their daily required tasks.


When we DO finally push some towards Vista, our successful strategy has been to make it a package deal. "Yes, miss Jones, I really think you'll enjoy Vista for xyz reasons, but we do suggest you purchase some more memory and get away from your 512 mb of memory." Every install we have performed for customers with Vista has been a success and not one customer has ever asked to go back. Many call and ask how to do things because they aren't familiar with the new interface, but once they learn it they feel it is vastly superior to the XP environment they were accustomed to. The one thing you have to accustom yourself to is that Vista is more robust, therefore it plain and simply requires more memory to run as fast as XP did on older systems. However, memory is the single cheapest upgrade to PC's in today's marketplace. I took my PC from 1 GB of memory to 4 GB of memory for about $150.00 total. This was similar to dropping a Hemi in a 1966 Mustang, locking the accelerator to the floor, and jumping out to watch what it could do. As expected, my PC now flies through several simultaneous tasks, while downloading TV guide programming, checking emails, and browsing 10+ web site simultaneously.


That being said, most of you know about the pending SP1 update coming out for Vista. Due to be released in January, it has been announced today that it will be postponed for six more weeks before hitting the market.  Naturally we have been very interested in finding out what new changes to expect and determining how this might affect our present or future customers.


Our initial response:

Don't rush out and download SP1 the day it comes out. There ARE some significant changes that will affect users in unpredictable ways and you never ever want to be the guinea pig when it comes to a Microsoft update.


Why the six week delay?

Well, this may actually be a smart thing on Microsoft's part, especially since people are so ready to bash the new OS already. They are concerned with some Driver issues that have yet to be fixed, however this isn't entirely Microsoft's fault. Microsoft makes the operating system and then informs the hardware manufacturers "Hey, this is what you need to be able to do if you want to run on Vista." Most hardware partners say "ok.. awesome! We will build that into all our new drivers for all our new hardware and software." What they DON'T always do is take the time and money to update their already-existing products! This is the clincher that's causing Microsoft to hesitate about the delivery of their new patch. Microsoft is fully aware of the backlash over the Vista operating system and doesn't want to give users any more reason not to like their shiny new operating system. Many hardware vendors have yet to return new drivers to Microsoft that will make them SP1 compatible. The problem gets a little worse because of the significant changes to the operating system that means some drivers that are already Vista Certified will no longer be certified under SP1 due to problems with the driver.


What does that mean to me?

Basically it means if you install Windows Vista SP1, then you can no longer trust the "Windows Vista Logo" on the boxes you buy in Best Buy, Staples, or elsewhere. The lack of initiative from some hardware manufacturers has made it such that they have not delivered the new drivers to Microsoft for them to bundle in the service pack, AND there are some changes that make it so that certain hardware that WAS certified, won't be certified under the new SP1 until a new driver is released.


What are the affected drivers and programs?

I don't know yet, but I will provide the information when I find out.


Well, what IS happening with the SP1 update? What is it going to do to my computer?

There are too many changes to list them all here; 55 pages worth to be exact, but I'll try to gloss over the highlights of some of the major changes.



The SP 1 update is 700 mb in size, so it's NOT going to be a traditional one minute download. This is more closely related to reinstalling your entire operating system, though it should go fairly smooth for users when it is released. By comparison, the last and largest update to Windows XP was only 266 MB, and that was TWICE the size of the entire extracted operating system that came before it; Windows 98 (98 took up a whopping 126mb of hard drive space for a full install when it was released.)


The Kill Switch

Some of you may know about this, but Microsoft has installed a Kill Switch in Vista that reprograms your operating system if you don't validate it. Honestly, the only reason you wouldn't validate is because you are running a hacked or pirated copy, so this should be no big deal for you. Under the original release, if you didn't activate windows would drop down into "reduced functionality mode" and you could only run your browser and then only for 1 hour before the machine turned off. The new update will uninstall this feature and will replace your background wall paper with one that tells you (and anyone who can see your screen) that you're running a hacked copy and you need to validate to remove it.


Anticracking Patches

There have been a few hacks (exploits) that have made it possible to activate Vista without actually legally doing so. Microsoft has addressed these in their new release, now installing a preventative measure to detect and disable both the OEM BIOS exploit hack, and the Grace Timer Exploit hack.


Desktop Search

Vista has an integrated desktop search capability that uses Microsoft's search engines, but makes it very difficult to change to another company's search tool, such as Google Desktop Search. They haven't removed the Window Search component. It's still there and enabled by default, but you do have the ability to disable it now and choose another search provider for your native desktop searching.


Your PC WILL slow down a little (temporarily)

Microsoft has acknowledged the install process clears the user-specific data that is used by Windows to optimize performance, which means your PC will feel a little sluggish for a bit right after the install. However, within a few hours or days after installing, the system will reindex for you and everything will be back to normal.


If you would like to read more about the changes to your system, you can download the Overview provided by Microsoft by clicking here.


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