What’s New In SP1

Traditionally Microsoft has focused nearly exclusively on fixes in their service packs, with new features being few and definitely not the focus of a service pack - new features instead usually come with a different OS. When SP2 for Windows XP was released in 2004, it broke this mold with a highly atypical number of new and long-needed features to go along with the fixes it integrated. Although at the time Microsoft called it an exception to the rule, Vista SP1 makes for a tradition of exceptions, bringing a large number of new features to Vista.

For new features, we’ll start with EFI. Vista x64 was previously scheduled to get Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) support, but this was pulled before the launch of Vista for reasons that were never made clear. Microsoft does have a working EFI implementation for the Itanium versions of Windows, so it was not a case of them being completely unprepared. With SP1 having been released we finally have a good hunch what this reason was: it appears Microsoft was waiting for the Unified EFI Forum to complete their 2.1 specification.  Microsoft’s previous implementations were for Intel’s EFI implementation prior to Intel releasing the specification to the UEFI Forum, and while the first UEFI specification was completed in early 2006, the Forum made a number of small but significant changes for the 2.1 specification which didn’t come until early 2007.

The end result is that the long-promised support for EFI (or rather UEFI; the original EFI 1.xx isn’t supported due to issues with x64) is finally here. As was originally going to be the case, UEFI support is limited to the x64 editions of Vista. Microsoft continues to justify this by claiming that EFI support for 32-bit x86 systems is a dead end, an argument that is particularly convincing a year and a half later now that systems are finally shipping with 4GB of RAM and need to/should be run in 64-bit mode anyhow.

With that said this change won’t make much of an immediate difference for Vista, but it finally gives PC manufacturers the ability to use UEFI if they desire, without having to resort to BIOS compatibility modules for Windows. We’re still waiting for someone besides Apple to start shipping consumer machines (or motherboards) with UEFI support, so this will be an issue we’ll pick up another day. (Ed: We did see a few demonstrations of UEFI boards at CES, though they're not yet publicly available.) For now we’re still looking forward to what motherboard manufacturers can do when freed from the ancient 16-bit real-mode for the startup/configuration abilities, along with the new features like GUID Partition Tables that offer a nearly unlimited number of partitions and better partition resizing.

With the addition of UEFI support, Microsoft has also made a few tweaks to the Windows pre-installation environment that should be more immediately useful. For anyone that has attempted to install Vista with a disc containing both the x86 and x64 versions of the operating system, they will have first-hand experience with the fact that two pre-installation environments were required – one for each version of the OS as an environment could not install the other version of the OS. That experience has been unified somewhat with SP1; now the x86 environment can install the x64 version of the OS (but not the other way around, interestingly enough). This effectively fixes one of the more annoying quirks in the Vista installation process, although the combined size of both the x86 and x64 installers means such disks still aren’t the default since their contents can’t fit on a single-layer DVD. For now Microsoft is targeting this towards IT administrators who roll their own custom installer images and who now will only need one image no matter what their machine is (x86, x64, or x64-UEFI).

AMD’s graphics division is also getting a pick-me-up with SP1, with the inclusion of Direct3D 10.1 support. AMD’s HD3000 series cards are still the only cards to support D3D 10.1, but this has mattered little since D3D 10.1 wasn’t out at the time that AMD released those cards. This allows AMD to push the issue harder although we’re not sure it will make much of a difference. Given the slow adaptation of DirectX/Direct3D 10 by game developers, we haven’t seen any real momentum towards D3D 10.1. Developers may simply skip Direct3D 10.1 and go for Direct3D 11 when it is finally released, otherwise sticking with 10.0 for the time being. (Ed: We've heard from Microsoft and several game developers that DX10.1 is not a major update and that they will do exactly that.)


Hotpatching support has also finally been added to Vista, which like UEFI is another one of those features that was on the drawing board at one point but disappeared before Vista was released. The lack of hotpatching support, otherwise known as the ability to patch running software without a reboot, has long been an irksome issue with Windows. As Microsoft has implemented it, this support is limited to Windows components (as opposed to any dreams of driver hotpatching), and we’re eager to see some patches for Vista SP1 to see this feature in action and to judge whether Microsoft really is able to reduce the amount of reboots required in patching.

Also new to SP1 are a few security related APIs for application developer use. The first API is for Data Execution Prevention (DEP, aka the NX/XD bit), a buffer-overflow prevention feature that was introduced with XP SP2. By default DEP is only enabled for certain Microsoft services because of its unpredictable performance with applications not built and tested against it. With the addition of this API, developers will be able to control how DEP functions, so that if their code isn’t completely DEP-safe, they may disable certain parts of DEP for their specific application, allowing some protection from DEP without the need to rewrite the offending code or require that DEP be disabled for that program entirely. This is effectively a precursor towards Windows being globally DEP enabled at some later point.


The second security API is for security software vendors, some of whom were caught off guard by Vista x64’s Kernel Patch Protection feature. Certain security/anti-virus software patches the Windows kernel in order to enact their defensive operations, and with KPP this was prevented. The issue turned into a big enough political quagmire that the European Commission was looking in to the matter as an anticompetitive action. As a result Microsoft has developed an API to allow applications to exert some control over KPP and allow those (and only those) applications to patch the kernel. Allowing any patching seems like a poor idea that goes against the goals and security offered by KPP, but this is an issue that has long since been decided on, and the vendors requesting the ability to continue patching the kernel have won out.

Rounding out the major additions to Vista SP1 are items to support new technology. The more pressing of these is full support for 802.11n Draft 2.0 wireless networking, which in spite of not being a final version of the 802.11n standard has quickly become a de-facto standard. While it is possible for a pre-SP1 machine to use 802.11n, it requires an additional level of work by the hardware developer to write more driver code and applications to compensate for the lack of native support - the OS has such support for 802.11a/b/g, thus handling most of the work. In effect SP1 brings 802.11n support to the same level as a/b/g.

Finally we come to exFAT, the next-generation successor to the ubiquitous FAT32 file system. For anyone that has used FAT32 in recent times on a large drive, you should be familiar with its limitations in terms of files allowed in a single directory, a lack of security permissions/access control lists, and a particularly harsh 4GB limit for file sizes. The last two items in particular have been making FAT32 more difficult to use as file sizes continue to increase, and the move to Windows XP gave home users real file system security through a file system with ACL support (NTFS). exFAT in turn is designed to be FAT32’s successor, implementing a modern but still light file system design that supports all of these missing features (although Vista SP1 doesn’t appear to support ACLs, even though it’s part of the standard).


At this point in time exFAT exists in an odd space between FAT32 and NTFS that makes it hard to determine if Microsoft is going give exFAT a reasonable foothold. With the continuing perfection of NTFS drivers for non-Windows operating systems and Microsoft’s own fixes to NTFS removable disk support in SP1, NTFS has been slowly becoming the de-facto standard file system for cross-OS disk access, and like exFAT NTFS is a modern file system that doesn’t suffer from the problems posed by FAT32. Furthermore Microsoft has been successful in securing patents for FAT32 (a standard that was previously treated as an open one), making some groups leery of exFAT. exFAT does have an advantage over NTFS thanks to being a lighter weight file system. It's easier to deal with exFAT on devices with limited processing power and memory, and exFAT possesses a much smaller data structure overhead (we measured NTFS at 30MB vs. <1MB for exFAT on a 512MB flash drive), but this may not be enough.

exFAT as the common cross-OS file system seems unlikely at this point (as a result Microsoft is wisely not targeting it towards this use), so what support it does pick up will be limited to mobile devices. But how many mobile devices are in immediate need of ACLs? Or support for files over 4GB? There’s a somewhat convincing argument for using exFAT with digital picture frames if you can gather a large enough number of photos (roughly sixty-five thousand), but that’s the extent of "good" reasons to use exFAT at the moment. We’re not convinced Microsoft is going to see much use of exFAT outside of Windows Mobile 6 devices given the high degree of overlap with NTFS; if the time comes for mobile devices where FAT32 is too little, they may very well switch to NTFS due to the much wider base of support.

What’s Fixed In SP1, Cont The Test
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  • siniranji - Saturday, April 26, 2008 - link

    when i apply service pack 1 to my licensed Vista, it turns to
    evoluation version and due date is june 2008
    Reply
  • siniranji - Saturday, April 26, 2008 - link

    when i apply service pack 1 to my licensed Vista, it turns to
    evoluation version and due date is june 2008
    Reply
  • shinomen - Saturday, March 08, 2008 - link

    When Vista was first about to hit shelves I was all for upgrading to the new OS. But once I started using it in real world environments, I found that my productivity started to suffer due to the revamped interface, lack of support for some older hardware and software, and added security.

    I understand anything new is going to be a learning experience, but it doesn't help when every move I make is preceeded with an extra step or message of confirmation (are you sure you want to continue, how about now, do you want to continue).

    For example, I'm trying to troublshoot networking issues with a client of mine. I'm use to window key + R , type cmd, press enter, ipconfig /release and the computer does what I want. But with Vista, I have to take the extra step of right clicking the cmd program and running with elevated privilages (I have now found a keyboard shortcut to do the same)

    Or for the same scenario, I need to telnet into the dsl modem. So again, I hit Window Key + R, cmd, telnet. But with windows vista, this is not installed. Ok, now I have to go to add remove programs, windows components, and install the telnet. (I hope I remembered to bring my DVD!)

    I understand that hardware support is largely due to manufacturers writing new drivers to be compatible with the new OS, but there were so many times I would install a peice of hardware (or printer specifically) and there would be no driver support. But because the manufacturer is making no real money off updating the driver and would in fact lose money by going back and writing the driver, they take their time realeasing it in hopes that the consumer will purcahse a newer model that already is supported in Vista. Again, not specifically Windows fault, but windows did change the way drivers are installed or supported (I don't know the techical details why it doesn't work, but I know it doesn't work).

    Software support, you're lucky if you can get the older software to work, (i.e. quickbooks 2006) otherwise just go out and purchase new software. No one likes to have to drop money to upgrade their line of business software just to get back to a functioning state that they were in with Windows XP. (Might not be a big deal with one computer, but when you're talking 5 to 10 computers, the money adds up)

    Performance. If your going to buy a new machine that has higher end hardware, then vista most likely will perform well (not as well as the same machine running xp, but well). But if you're going to take a machine running xp and upgrade it to vista just to take a performance hit, then it is not wise to upgrade. (Also, don't forget that now that you upgraded the old machine to vista, you may need to purchase more ram, and also update any software that is not compatible with vista)

    So, those are my gripes for the people that say Vista is a better operating system, or for the people that say they have had no problems with their vista computers.

    (side note: many times when I ask my pro vista customers what they think about vista, their response is "Oh, I love it, I don't know why people say they have problems, I haven't had any trouble with it". So my response is "Yeah, alot of people with older hardware and software were have compatibility issues", and my customer says, "Oh yeah, I couldn't get my printer to install, so I just bought a new one" ----great if you have the money to "just buy a new one")
    Reply
  • ufoall - Monday, March 03, 2008 - link

    I was running vista on my E4400 with 2g memory and PCi e .. vista runs very slow after install couples of software.. if i install same software on my xp it runs much faster than vista... vista is a crap compare to oldies windows os... Reply
  • Beartwo - Monday, March 03, 2008 - link

    Since buying a new pc just before christmas I have been plagued with Messenger, Windows mail, Explorer and other internal applications crashing.
    The system is based on an Asus P5K-E mb with Core 2 Quad cpu, 3 Gb of RAM, Nvidia GeForce 8800GT gfx.
    From the first moment I turned the pc on I kept getting these errors. I flashed the bios and installed all the latest drivers (certified ones), but the problems persisted.
    It got to the point where Vista was simply not usable, the error reports I got from Vista were about as useful as a bicycle would be to a fish...
    I am back to Windows XP, with a few less dollars in my pocket and a useless OS sitting in a drawer.

    As far as I am concerned Vista has been a waste of time and money... kinda reminds me of a friend who bought a pc with Millenium preinstalled... sheesh.

    Reply
  • just4U - Sunday, March 02, 2008 - link

    I've been using Vista64 for 2 weeks now and I must say .. I am very happy with it. I was so leary about moving to a 64bit os and then adding Vista on top of it .. but it worked out fine. It accually seems to be more responsive in windows aplications and load times. Not sure if that's just because it's a fresh install or not yet. Anyway...

    That's without SP1 installed by the way. I've been waiting for the official launch of it instead of beta versions and release candidates.
    Reply
  • jkantor - Sunday, March 02, 2008 - link

    I don't know what's worse: settling for a world in which software "development" means shipping it before it works - or excusing a monopoly for forcing us to purchase an overpriced upgrade that offers no real improvements over the previous version. Reply
  • Mark Huson - Sunday, March 02, 2008 - link

    I have read somewhere that with SP1, Vista allows the user to install Windows XP from within Vista, and automatically adding the Windows XP install to the bootloader. Is this true? Reply
  • hoelder - Friday, February 29, 2008 - link

    I beta tested Vista and was very dismayed about it's resource hungry attitude and the money I would have to fork over to upgrade hardware so I would not lose any performance. It was not worth it with the enormous sticker price of Vista Ultimate. I still insist that Vista needs 4 GB of RAM (people were laughing at me then) and a SCSI RAID controller with 4 74GB drives RAID 5. And then something amazing happened. I was contracted by a company that used Linux. First, Linux is for geeks, second I get everything I need to do everyday business work. I discovered that for a business solution Linux was a more reliable solution if you looked at Enterprise Linux Desktop by SUSE or Red Hat and has a lot to offer to developers or administrators. So forget Vista, get Linux. Reply
  • mczak - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    This is really lame to just show 4GB even if only 3GB or so are usable. Ok maybe some users got confused if it didn't show all ram installed, but now make them believe all ram is available is better? Now it will be even harder to convince people that 32bit windows CAN'T use 4GB ram... Come on it can't be that difficult to show something like "4GB ram installed, 3GB addressable" instead.
    And the multimedia scheduler is still pathetic. Almost looks like MS didn't want to admit the concept is fundamentally broken, instead they offer some way for powerusers to make its behaviour acceptable...
    Reply

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