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Windows Vista SP1 Survival Guide

Here's how to get ready for Windows Vista Service Pack 1, due from Microsoft in March, with its much needed performance enhancements, security upgrades, and compatibility revisions.

This story originally appeared March 4, 2008.

After a little more than a year in the wild, it's high time for Windows Vista to receive the service pack it deserves. While Service Pack 1 won't change the way Windows Vista looks or feels, for the most part, it will improve many things about the way it runs, based on both Microsoft's internal testing and the feedback of tens of thousands of users.

Keep an eye out in case the process stalls out or fails.
(click for image gallery)

SP1 has been both heavily anticipated and badly needed. While the gold release of Vista was for the most part solid enough to use as a production system, there were still many frustrating rough edges.

In the light of these problems, one of the most commonly repeated canards about using Vista was, "I'll just wait until SP1 comes out." Well, SP1 is now almost out. A release candidate, which is the version we tested, was made available towards the end of last year. More recently, Microsoft officially released SP1 to manufacturing in February to TechNet and MSDN customers. The actual, wide public release to users at large is expected sometime in March.

What's In The Box?
Vista Service Pack 1 is a cumulative collection of all the fixes -- performance enhancements, security updates, and compatibility revisions -- published or created for Vista since its release. As with an artist's greatest-hits collection, some of it is "previously released material" -- but that absolutely doesn't mean you shouldn't apply SP1. Otherwise you won't get the full benefit of all the changes made.

Keep in mind that SP1 will be large -- quite necessarily so. The standalone installer for SP1 will weigh in at anywhere from 450 Mbytes (for the five-language edition) to 550 Mbytes (the all-language edition), and you'll need at least 5 Gbytes of temporary space on your system to perform the install. Most PCs capable of running Vista right now should not have a problem sparing that much room, but if you do, then a cleanup -- or maybe even a new hard drive, if it's already time for one -- is in order. (Note that there are ways to ameliorate both the storage and download requirements; see "Express" on page 3 for details.)

Here's a quick rundown of the types of fixes and changes that SP1 contains:

  • Security fixes and enhancements. The final release of SP1 will contain all of the security hotfixes released for Vista since it went gold, and a number of under-the-hood behavioral changes to security, such as improvements to the random number generator used in Vista's cryptography APIs, or ways to manage the BitLocker on-disk encryption system. Many of these are things people won't notice directly but which can be leveraged by applications in the future.

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