Microsoft Preps Windows Vista SP1
Published: September 5, 2007
by Alex Woodie
Testing has begun on Windows Vista service pack 1 (SP1), a new release of the client operating system that will pack together a range of updates and application compatibility and device driver improvements, Microsoft said last week. The first beta, which won't bring any new features, is expected to ship in the next few weeks, and will be available to the public.
In a posting on the Windows Vista Blog, Microsoft's Nick White discussed Vista SP1. "We didn't design SP1 as a vehicle for releasing new features; however, some existing components do gain enhanced functionality in SP1," he writes.
A more thorough dealing of SP1 can be found in a white paper that Microsoft posted to its Web site. While SP1 won't receive any new whiz-bangs, it will deliver iterative improvements in the areas of security, reliability, and performance, according to the document.
Vista SP1 will also contain changes to the operating system's search function, which has been the source of friction between Microsoft and Google. Earlier this year, Microsoft agreed to make changes to Vista to allow users to install their desktop search apparatus of choice, in response to a complaint that Google made to the Justice Department.
Despite the fact that no mention of changes to the search function was included in the white paper, a Microsoft spokesman confirmed that Vista SP1 will give manufacturers and consumers the ability to select a default desktop search program in much the same way that users can pick their own defaults for Web browsers and media players. SP1 will also contain links to the default desktop search program on the Start menu and in Windows Explorer windows, and Microsoft will provide information on how third-party search developers can minimize performance problems.
On the security front, SP1 will deliver new interfaces and APIs enabling third-party security software providers to work with the Windows Security Center and to access the new PatchGuard feature protecting the operating system kernel in X64 versions of Windows. This had been a source of bad blood between Microsoft and the two largest security vendors, Symantec and McAfee, which accused the software giant of using dirty tricks to prevent them from supporting X64 versions of Windows. Microsoft is now in the antivirus business with its Forefront suite of software, and Symantec and McAfee suspected this may have had something to do with Microsoft's dragging its feet in sharing the PatchGuard specs.
Other security improvements include the capability to allow Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) files to be digitally signed; a new Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) pseudo-random number generator; and a new authentication method that allows users to activate its BitLocker drive encryption using a PIN number in combination with a USB key fob-based Trusted Platform Module (TPM).
On the reliability front, Microsoft promises that Vista SP1 will be more compatible with graphics cards, external displays, certain network configurations, and printers. Upgrades from Windows XP are also expected to be smoother, and the process of entering and resuming from sleep mode is also expected to be improved.
Other improvements Microsoft plans to deliver with Vista SP1 include: the capability to encrypt more than one external volume; support for the exFAT file system when using flash memory devices; faster processing of data from Secure Digital (SD)-type memory devices; and support for Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), which makes it easier to use Virtual Private Networking (VPN).
Microsoft also gave forewarning that Vista SP1 will be a hefty addition, requiring a whopping 7 GB to 12 GB of free disk space for the installation, for the X86 and X64 versions, respectively. All but 1 GB of this space will be reclaimed following the installation, however.
To ease the transition to SP1, Microsoft is providing an "Express" deployment pack that reduces the update's image to around 50 MB. Microsoft is also providing a "Stand Alone" deployment pack that will allow tools such as its System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to automatically deploy SP1 to multiple PCs.
Microsoft's White says a beta of Vista SP1 will be available in the coming weeks. Currently, a private group of testers is putting a pre-beta version of SP1 through its paces. If all goes as planned, Vista SP1 will be available during the first quarter of 2008--the same timeframe as Windows Server 2008, which was delayed again last week.
Microsoft Delays Windows Server 2008
Microsoft Concedes to Google, Will Scale Back Search with Vista SP1
Vista Security Spat Escalates as Microsoft Ships Defender
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