Thursday, March 20, 2008

Microsoft Releases First Major Service Pack For Windows Vista

Microsoft's long-awaited first Service Pack for Windows Vista is finally being released, and none too soon. A standalone installer is now available, and Windows Update will shortly begin offering Vista SP1 to all Vista users.

The first version of this Service Pack was available to some users back in February, but Microsoft delayed issuing the full release until now in order to try and better address lingering driver incompatibility issues.

The driver compatibility improvements Microsoft is touting as part of Vista SP1 are welcome, and overdue.

While it is helpful that Microsoft claims the number of Vista-compatible devices has gone from 13,000 to 54,000 according to Microsoft, the fact that a four-fold increase has even been possible speaks volumes about why so many users have desperately turned away from Vista in search of compatible drivers for Windows XP.

Microsoft has used the error reporting process in Vista to target the largest problems for fixes, and now claims nearly all have been resolved in the top hardware and software issues.

Again, while that is an improvement, users of older hardware and programs should be aware that driver and software compatibility issues will continue to be a problem.

It is wise to research Vista and whatever hardware or software you may be dependent on before performing a Vista upgrade. Microsoft's release notes with Vista indicate that while hardware driver compatibility has been significantly improved, software that did not function with the original release of Vista will also likely not function with SP1 because of basic compatibility issues.

What is also not stated in the driver compatibility improvements for Vista are separate figures for fully compatible 64-bit driver versions, which lag far behind. In many cases users of 64-bit Vista are compelled to either buy new hardware or run minimal drivers with reduced functionality, if any are available at all.

When upgrading to Vista SP1, be aware that this is by far the largest download I have ever seen offered through Windows Update, and even on a fast system and connection it will take a considerable length of time to download and intall. There will also be, for many users, a series of other patches that must be installed first before Vista SP1 will be able to be installed.

Computer administrators are being advised in Microsoft's Vista newsgroups, and I concur, that because of the size of the download, it is wise to obtain a separate standalone installer from the Microsoft Web site, which was well over 700mb alone when I recently downloaded same.

Vista SP1 will also generally report when 4GB of RAM is installed in a machine, a major complaint of the original OS. However, users should be aware that the 32-bit version of Vista will use no more than 3GB of system RAM, and a system must also have a motherboard BIOS capable of using 4GB of RAM, even with 64-bit Vista, before a system can actually use more than 3GB of RAM.

My lack of love for Windows Vista is, to regular readers of Cyberville, no particular secret at this point. Microsoft intends to try and force users to switch to Vista over the next two years, first by not allowing OEM installs of XP after June of this year, and then ending “mainstream support” for XP after April, 2009, although I, for one, expect that date will be pushed back, with the possibility that even Congress will enter the Vista fray.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

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