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Vista, XP Service Pack Changes Revealed

All of those users who have been waiting to kick the tires on Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), it's time to start your engines well almost. While it's not quite ready for prime time yet, the general public will be able to get its hands on the latest test copy in the next few days, the company says.

Microsoft also released the first service pack for Office 2007 on Tuesday, and in a sign that Microsoft may also be readying a broad public test of Windows XP SP3 soon, the company posted documentation of what's coming in SP3. Officials also posted similar documentation of the changes made in Vista SP1.

This week Microsoft will release the latest "release candidate," or RC, of Vista SP1 to the public for the first time. Test releases of SP1 have been in some customers' and partners' hands since this fall, but the audience was limited to about 15,000 testers up until now.

Last week, the company made Vista RC1 available to Microsoft Connect, Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), and TechNet subscribers, and announced general public availability of the test version will come sometime this week. (A Microsoft spokesperson Tuesday confirmed that remains the plan but was not able to provide a more precise date for the public test release.)

For something to read while you wait, Microsoft published a 17-page tome describing many of the fixes, improvements, and other changes coming in SP1. The Vista service pack is currently still scheduled to be released by the end of the first quarter of 2008.

Besides a myriad of bug fixes and reliability updates, SP1 adds support for exFAT, a new file system supporting "larger overall capacity and larger files, which will be used in Flash memory storage and consumer devices," according to the documents. It also speeds up file copying operations from 25 percent to 50 percent. Slow file copying has been one of the most common complaints users have made about Vista since its launch at the beginning of this year.

Other additions in SP1 include a new compression algorithm for Remote Desktop Protocol sessions that's meant to reduce streaming traffic by as much as 60 percent. SP1 also cuts the number of User Account Control prompts down to one from four when creating or renaming a folder at a protected location, the documents state.

As expected, Vista SP1 also includes changes to enable third-party desktop search engines Google, in particular to be more easily designated as the default search tool by users.

Although not as eagerly awaited as Vista SP1, Office 2007 SP1 does make some improvements to Microsoft's premier productivity applications suite, including work to reduce crashes as well as to solve some performance issues.

"For example, SP1 addresses problems customers have experienced in Outlook 2007 when opening large mail files," Microsoft Office product manager Reed Shaffner said in a statement. "We also did a lot of work to improve the reliability of the 2007 Office system's server components with SP1."

Meanwhile, although the same group of about 15,000 that's been testing Vista SP1 recently got its hands on the preliminary RC of XP SP3, the service pack has not reached a broader public test group yet. However, some independent sites are already providing downloads of the XP SP3 RC code.

"Windows XP SP3 includes all previously released Windows XP updates, including security updates and hotfixes, and select out-of-band releases," the SP3 documentation states. It does add one important new feature, however. SP3 provides support for Network Access Protection a technology for quarantining untrusted PCs from the network -- that's coming in Windows Server 2008.

When it's available, Vista SP1 RC1 will be able to be downloaded here.

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