Microsoft Vista SP2 – Not Much To See


Windows Vista needs a service pack – and Microsoft’s SP2 now has a Release Candidate. But how much does it offer to IT professionals?

Microsoft has fulfilled its promise of a quick delivery of a Release Candidate for SP2 for Windows Vista and Windows 2008 Server. Unfortunately, enterprises will see few worthwhile upgrades. There are some hardware and wireless improvements, but users and administrators will see the most beneficial upgrades to the search capabilities.
Microsoft officials last week followed through on their February promise to quickly deliver a Release Candidate for Service Pack 2 for both Windows Vista and Windows 2008 Server.
Unlike Service Pack 1 for Vista, which delivered such highly tangible benefits to the end user as streamlined UAC controls and faster file transfer speeds, eWEEK Labs’ preliminary explorations reveal Service Pack 2 delivers few significant updates to Vista users or administrators.
I installed Service Pack 2 on a pair of Windows Vista Ultimate x86 clients with SP1—one on a physical machine (a Dell XPS m1330) and a second on a VMware Workstation virtual instance. I found installation of the Five Language Standalone executable took between 21 and 27 minutes on my clean instances. When fully installed, I found that SP2 used about 1 GB of hard drive space, although Microsoft recommends clients targeted for upgrade have a minimum of 7 GB of free hard drive space (13 GB for 64-bit installations) for the update to complete.
To recover some of the hard drive space used by the service pack, Microsoft integrated the executable compcln.exe, which removes archived versions of operating system files replaced by SP2. In my tests, I was able to recover about 330 MB of space by running the command. However, I found that running compcln.exe removed my ability to uninstall the service pack. As such, administrators should only run the command on systems they are sure won’t need to be restored to a previous state.
Service Pack 2 is not a cumulative update, so administrators will need to ensure that clients targeted for upgrade to SP2 are already running Service Pack 1. Hotfix KB955430, a servicing stack whose documentation says “handles installation and removal of software updates, language packs, and optional windows features,” must be installed prior to SP2 deployment. The standalone executable includes this update as part of the installation, but administrators planning to deploy SP2 via WSUS will need to pre-deploy this hotfix.
Along with the usual collection of already-released security and functionality hotfixes included in the service pack, Microsoft also delivers a modest set of hardware enhancements—few of which will likely have much importance for those few enterprise administrators with Vista in their network. Among these improvements brought by SP2, Microsoft now claims support for VIA 64-bit processors and has integrated Blu-Ray recording into the operating system.
On the wireless side of things, Microsoft baked in support for Bluetooth 2.1 and delivered some incremental improvements to the operating system’s integrated wireless LAN capabilities. Specifically, Service Pack 2 promises faster Wi-Fi reconnections when returning the OS from a sleep state, and the integration of Windows Connect Now capabilities into Vista. Since WCN is marketed towards easier deployment of wireless routers and networks, the delivery of this latter feature should have zero impact on enterprise WLANs.
However, administrators may find benefits from SP2’s update to Vista’s built-in desktop search capabilities. While previous iterations of Windows Vista came with Windows Search 3.0, SP2 automatically upgrades to Windows Search 4.0. Released as a standalone upgrade about a year ago, Windows Search 4.0 promises improved stability and speed of the indexer, as well as faster sorting and grouping in Windows Explorer.
Administrators should also find Windows Search 4.0 significantly enhances the ability to control search and indexing capabilities via Group Policy. Windows Search 4.0 delivers 30 group policy controls, up from the nine controls delivered with previous iterations. Among the new controls are the ability to throttle indexing of Exchange stores, prevent indexing of certain file extensions, or to point clients to intranet search services.
Administrators should also find Service Pack 2 delivers more group policy controls over power management functions.
Microsoft has yet to announce a specific time frame for release of the gold code of the service pack.