Skip to main content

Still On The Fence With Windows Vista?

Five things IT Pros might consider with Windows Vista SP1

Well, hopefully you’ve begun the process of evaluating, testing, and deploying Windows Vista in your organization.  With a year of a maturing ecosystem and continuous updates through Windows Update, many IT Pros have concluded the time is right to get going on their Windows Vista adoption.

So the question with SP1 is, should it change the way you approach Windows Vista adoption?

While it has become accepted wisdom to wait until the first service pack release to broadly adopt any software into your infrastructure, we have been guiding IT Pros to begin the process of testing and adopting Windows Vista as soon as practical.  Many organizations are already experiencing the advantages in security and manageability, and for those holding off, SP1 now represents a great opportunity to move forward.  So while the quick answer to the question above is “no,” we believe it is critical that you understand how SP1 changes the adoption equation for Windows Vista, and take another look at the advantages of updating your desktop infrastructure.

With the Springboard Series of articles and guidance, we strive to make the complex process of adopting Windows Vista a little easier—and if you ever catch us saying that deploying a major operating system is easy, then shame on us!

How far has Windows Vista come since its launch?

While service packs generally do not introduce new functionality into an operating system, there are times when this event is an opportunity to reach beyond just a cumulative security patch update.  With Windows Vista SP1, we have taken the learnings and input from IT Pros who have worked with Windows Vista in the field, along with automated tools to capture information on applications and events that cause problems or invoke a crash.  The result is an update that covers security and performance patches as you would expect, but also provides added capabilities to make the environment more manageable and robust.

In addition, the past fourteen months have allowed the Windows ecosystem to mature, with over 2,500 applications and over 15,000 devices to earn either the ‘Works with Windows Vista’ or ‘Certified for Windows Vista’ logo—and also with 98 or the 100 top selling applications and 46 of the top 50 downloaded applications on Download.com now compatible with Windows Vista.

Windows Update has also been a great resource for understanding which device drivers were needed, and targeting the efforts of developers at Microsoft and Partners.  When a new device is connected to a Windows Vista PC, the OS automatically polls Windows Update for the available driver.  If the driver isn’t currently available, it alerts us, so we can identify the most requested drivers and work with our hardware partners to provide them.  Since the original Windows Vista launch, the number of additional drivers on Windows Update grew from 13,000 to more than 54,000. 

The result is that today, adopting Windows Vista into your infrastructure is smoother and less painful—though we will admit, any major OS deployment will carry some pain along with it.  Our goal is to minimize the pain and provide guidance that will help ensure a successful deployment for you and your clients.

So What’s New in SP1?

As with any Service Pack release, Windows Vista SP1 incorporates all previously released updates to help protect your PCs and reduce disruption.  We actually scored pretty well here; Windows Vista had less than half the security vulnerabilities after its first year in market than Windows XP, and fewer than any other operating system available today.  That said, we still had work to do, and automated delivery tools available (such as Windows Update, WSUS, SMS or third-party tools) helped ensure that PCs running Windows Vista were able to stay current prior to availability of SP1.

As you look at Windows Vista SP1, there are five areas where IT Pros should focus on—for both reasons to move forward, and issues to understand. 

These areas of consideration are:

  1. Quality improvements, addressing reliability, security, and performance
  2. Administration improvements and changes
  3. Emerging hardware technologies and standards
  4. Application and hardware compatibility
  5. Deployment process guidance

Let’s discuss these one at a time, and cover how SP1 should factor in your deployment plans.  Information that is more detailed is available in the TechNet article, “ Notable Changes in Windows Vista Service Pack 1 Release Candidate.”

 

Consideration #1: Quality Improvements in SP1

Reliability

The input we garner from the automated tools embedded in Windows Vista—the Customer Experience Improvement Program and Windows Error Reporting—helps us to pinpoint which applications crash and why.  While sometimes the issue is with Microsoft code, other times the problem is from a third-party application.  Regardless, this information helps ensure quick identification and remediation by Microsoft or our partners.  SP1 addresses the most common causes of crashes and hangs in Windows Vista, providing a more robust environment.

In addition to this basic reliability improvement, Windows Vista SP1 goes further by providing fixes that address:

  • Newer graphics cards, helping to ensure that Windows Vista will function properly and reliably
  • Connecting a laptop to an external display
  • The transition between power states, such as resuming from a sleep state

Performance

Windows Vista SP1 incorporates improvements to PC performance that will help the client experience:

  • Acceleration in copying files and extracting files from archives, in some cases up to 2 times as fast
  • Reduced power consumption/Longer battery life due to reduced screen redraws (reduced CPU utilization)
  • Quicker display of the password prompt when logging on, and faster shut down in certain scenario
  • Faster browsing of network file shares through less bandwidth consumption

 

Consideration #2: Administration Changes

For the IT Pro, Windows Vista SP1 changes the way some administrative tasks are managed, and extends the capability of BitLocker drive encryption:

  • Windows Vista SP1 supports a new Group Policy management console on the client PC.  Upon installation of SP1, the current Group Policy Management Console is uninstalled, and GPEdit will default to Local Group Policy.  The new Group Policy Management Console can then be installed, adding provisions for comments to GPOs or individual settings, and searching for specific Group Policy settings
  • BitLocker drive encryption will offer an additional multi-factor authentication method that combines a key protected by the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) with a Startup Key stored on a USB storage device, along with a user-generated PIN
  • BitLocker drive encryption in Windows Vista RTM only encrypts the bootable volume (typically drive C); in SP1, additional local volumes can be encrypted
  • SP1 includes a new Security Policy through UAC that allows applications to prompt for elevation without using the secure desktop, allowing a remote helper to enter administrator credentials during a Remote Assistance Session
  • Expanded ability for Administrators to configure Network Access Protection (NAP) clients to receive updates through Windows Update or Microsoft Update, in addition to WSUS, along with other attributes

 

Consideration #3: Support for Emerging Hardware Technologies and Standards

Windows Vista SP1 adds support for several emerging hardware technologies and industry standards, extending capability for new devices and ensuring Windows Vista is future ready:

  • Adds support for the new Unified Extended Firmware Interface (UEFI) industry standard firmware with functional parity with legacy BIOS firmware, providing first-code on boot.  SP1 allows x64 computers to boot with UEFI
  • Extended File Allocation Table (exFAT), provides support for larger media capacity (over 32GB) and files over 4GB.  In addition, exFAT provides updated support for  the MS-DOS and Windows 9x FAT system applications
  • Windows Vista SP1 includes a new compression algorithm for the RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) that helps reduce network bandwidth required to send bitmaps or images via RDP. The compression, which can be selected by administrators via Group Policy settings, is transparent to all RDP traffic

 

Consideration #4: Application and Hardware Compatibility

With few exceptions, the applications you have been testing with Windows Vista RTM will maintain compatibility with Windows Vista SP1.  Where possible, SP1 adds shims to make applications that were  not compatible with Windows Vista RTM now compatible with Windows Vista SP1.  And as pointed out before, the ecosystem of applications has matured greatly since the original Windows Vista release, helping ensure the challenges of compatibility will be reduced and more manageable.  However, there will continue to be some applications that remain incompatible with Windows Vista SP1 due to architectural changes, such as User Account Control (UAC) and the new driver model; or because they were written using unsupported techniques, such as using undocumented APIs.

Hardware requirements are also unchanged, though with a year of driver development and updates to the code, you should find fewer hardware compatibility issues when you survey your infrastructure.  A new tool available from Microsoft makes this assessment even easier—the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) accelerator allows you to scan the PCs in your organization to determine Windows Vista compatibility and performance expectations of your current hardware, and capture granular information on what upgrades might be necessary.

Windows Vista SP1 does have larger image sizes, especially for versions with Multilanguage packs.  SP1 is available in three formats:

  • Windows Update—this option is for PCs that receive their updates from the public Windows Update service or internal distribution, and downloads only the files needed for upgrade from Windows Vista RTM
  • Stand-alone—this option is for a single packaged update for any version and language combination.  This format is typically used for upgrading an existing Windows Vista PC, and can be used with automated distribution tools such as System Center Configuration Manager 2007
  • Integrated—this option is typically employed for new PCs; it ships on physical media and contains the full operating system with the service pack.

Installation of the integrated format can require significant disc space for installation.  Most of this space can be reclaimed after the installation:

Installation optionApproximate requirements
Windows Update x86-based: 1170 MB
x64-based: 1505 MB
Stand-alone installation x86-based: 2515 MB to 5445 MB
x64-based: 4105 MB to 7840 MB
Integrated installation 15 GB
Note: For more information about system requirements see http://support.microsoft.com/kb/919183 .

Offline servicing is a new capability of Windows Vista that allows hotfixes and updates to be applied offline to a captured .wim file.  Since the servicing stack—the portion of code responsible for updating the OS—needs to be updated as part of this upgrade, Windows Vista SP1 can’t be applied to offline Windows Vista images.  However, updates prior to and after SP1 will support offline servicing.  Please see the Windows Vista SP1 Deployment Guide for a complete description of options and requirements.

 

Consideration #5:  Deployment process Guidance

So what guidance are we recommending for adoption Windows Vista with SP1?  If you have begun the process of testing, piloting and deploying Windows Vista, we recommend you continue as planned.  When the SP1 update becomes available, you can stream that into the process without disruption.

Customers with Windows Vista Deployments underway
  • Continue with deployment as planned on current version of Windows Vista
  • Upgrade PCs running Windows Vista to Windows Vista SP1 within 24 months

Customers in the early stages of deployment (testing)

Customers still planning their Windows Vista Deployment

  • Use Windows Vista SP1 as the basis for future deployments
  • Consider “Concurrent Deployment” with Windows Server 2008

While there are several improvements and enhancements to the Windows Vista operating system, those who have begun testing, piloting and deploying Windows Vista should carry on and roll the SP1 code in based on the guidance above.  For those who have been waiting for SP1 to begin the process, well, now there are no more excuses!

For more information, please visit:

Windows Vista Technical Library—Windows Vista SP1
Notable Changes in SP1