Vista SP1 addresses some specific reliability, performance, and compatibility issues and adds support for new hardware and some emerging standards. More details in Microsoft’s Vista SP1 RC1 white paper; there’s an overview in the tech note.
There’s been plenty of commentary about SP1 in recent months, and I think some of it has gone a long way to setting the wrong expectations about the service pack.
You won’t notice much, really, once you’ve installed it. From what I can tell, just about everything is behind the scenes.
Indeed, as the white paper explains, the service pack is largely about improving reliability, performance and compatibility with other applications.
So what I’m writing about here is more to do with the installation than any particular features.
Vista SP1 RC1 isn’t a final release, incidentally – it’s a release candidate, meaning it’s getting close to a final release, due in early 2008. Bear that in mind if you decide to install it as it might carry some risk:
Microsoft does not recommend installing this software on primary or mission critical systems.
As I was feeling at the bleeding edge, I went ahead after doing a full system backup. Just in case.
I always believe that the best way to install anything that affects the operating system is via Windows Update, especially if you’re going to add any Windows component that’s not yet on general release.
Windows Update keeps a record of everything about the OS on your system since it was first installed. It knows what fixes, patches and additions have been installed, and what else it needs to do.
With this service pack release candidate, there are two or three essential updates that need to be made to Vista before the service pack gets installed. The actual number depends on which Windows edition you have.
I don’t know what might happen to your computer if you don’t install those two or three updates before you attempt to install SP1 RC1. Probably the install will fail, that’s all. Yet I don’t think it’s worth making the mistake to find out.
So rather than tinker yourself, it makes sense to let Windows Update do it all, in the right order and without error.
You can actually manually download SP1 RC1 from Microsoft’s website. I didn’t do that as I preferred to use Windows Update, as I mentioned, which is Microsoft’s recommendation as well.
Now to the very first step you need to take, before you use Windows Update – download Windows Update Experience for RC Public Availability.exe from the Microsoft Download Center.
This self-extracting file contains three files, one of which is a script file that makes an essential change in your Windows Registry that enables your already-installed version of Windows Vista to be updated to SP1 RC1.
Another included file is a Word document with everything you need to know about installing SP1 RC1, with easy-to-follow instructions. I followed them.
I did like this line in that doc:
[…] Windows Vista SP1 Release Candidate is for individuals, organizations, and technical enthusiasts who are comfortable evaluating pre-release software.
I guess I’m in the ‘technical enthusiast’ category :)
For the average user, there are two basic choices as to how SP1 RC1 gets installed on your computer:
- Automatically via Windows Update. Once you’ve installed the two or three essential updates, as mentioned above, this procedure will fetch the SP1 RC1 package at some point during three or four days. You’ll then get a notification in your system tray that SP1 RC1 is available for installation.
- Manually via Windows Update. If you really don’t want to wait, this is the route for you. It’s the one I took, which forces Windows Update to install SP1 RC1 straightaway.
Incidentally, when SP1 is finally released, Microsoft says you won’t have to jump so many hurdles to install it. So everything you read here about essential files to install first, etc, and the whole manual process, applies specifically to this release candidate.
One thing to note – once you begin the SP1 RC1 installation process, you’ll be warned that it might all take an hour or more:
In my experience, it was well over an hour. Bear that in mind and set aside enough time for this.
It’s not a casual during-lunch-break kind of process.
The most time was taken on reboot, which took about 45 minutes to fully complete the installation in three distinct steps.
In installing SP1 RC1 via Windows Update using the manual option, I followed the instructions in the Word doc I mentioned to the letter.
The end result? Here it is:
Note the three updates listed immediately after the line about the service pack – they are the prerequisite updates that must be installed before SP1 RC1 (three in my case, as I’m running Vista Ultimate), and installed in the right order.
Another good reason to let Windows Update take care of everything.
Finally, one other thing to note.
Once you have installed this update, how Windows Vista is described will change.
You might see a text in the bottom-right corner of your screen, above the system tray, that says your Windows Vista is an evaluation copy.
Nothing to be concerned about, and it doesn’t affect the validity of your copy of Vista or its genuineness.
What it does mean is that SP1 RC1 is time-limited and will expire at the end of June 2008. So if you do install this, it means your copy of Windows expires then. Again, nothing to be concerned about if you update to Service Pack 1 when it is finally released, which will be before then.
I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to update to SP1.
Would I install RC1 if I was working in a large organization where IT typically has a say in what you might want to do with your operating system?
In a word, no.
This is pre-release software, after all, and it’s to do with your operating system. So if you do just go ahead and install RC1, and experience any issues, don’t necessarily expect a sympathetic ear from your company’s IT support folk if you didn’t ask them beforehand about IT policies in your company concerning installing critical software.
In fact, Microsoft has made available a blocker tool for IT managers that will prevent a PC from getting RC1.
I also haven’t installed RC1 on my Sony Vaio SZ4XWIN/C laptop which runs a Sony OEM version of Windows Vista Business edition (the copy of Vista Ultimate on my Dell desktop is generic, not a Dell OEM version).
I’ll wait and see if or when Sony posts information about SP1 on the Vaio update site.
Quite a few people have written reviews of Vista SP1 RC1. A concise but good one is A Look at Windows Vista Service Pack 1 Release Candidate 1 by Paul Thurrott.
I like his concluding comment:
[…] this is the latest version of Vista. If you’re running this OS, you’re going to want to check this one out.
I have no argument with that.
[Later] An important additional point to mention – telling Microsoft what you think about SP1 RC1.
Once you install RC1, it creates a shortcut on your desktop to a special help page with links to online pages for providing feedback, reporting any problems plus advice on how to report those problems.
It makes a lot of sense for Microsoft to provide this easy feedback loop, especially as RC1 isn’t officially supported, ie, you won’t get any official help from the usual support channels at Microsoft.
The feedback page on the website includes this text:
[…] We’re looking for completely anonymous, candid feedback.
That’s great. What would be terrific would be if anyone could see all the feedback. Candid, anonymous and also Microsoft’s transparency.
I found it interesting that, if you do submit any feedback via this system, you’re taken to the Windows Server 2008 website once you’ve submitted that feedback.
Is this where Microsoft sees the future of Windows Vista?