Paul Thurrott wrote an FAQ about Vista SP1. The most interesting he said is that it will bring a major update to the Windows kernel. Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 will then both have the kernel version 6.1.
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So SP1 will be much more than just a collection of previously released updates. It is interesting to note that the reactions in the blogosphere about Microsoft's secrecy concerning service packs are quite varied. Matt Freestone from Windows Connected thinks that Microsoft doesn't really owe us early information about product releases, whereas Robert MC Laws from Windows Now understands that Microsoft's customers need this kind of information.
The point is that Windows is the only desktop OS that really matters in corporate environments. Companies with hundreds or thousands of desktops have to plan the rollout of a Windows update long in advance. They have to decide when to buy new hardware, what other software they deploy with the image, where to start with the deployment process, and many other things.
A service pack often means big changes. The fact that Vista will even get a new version number confirms this point. Note that Windows 2000 corresponds to Windows 5.0 and Windows XP to Windows 5.1. I think it is obvious that companies have to prepare for such a change as early as possible.
But, even if a service pack contains only a collection of updates, it is important to know its release date as soon as possible. It is usually only a matter of time until software vendors including Microsoft require the latest service pack for their applications. Thus, you always have to deploy an SP even if you installed all previous updates before. Imagine that you just deployed Vista on hundreds of machines and the very next day you learn that SP1 will be released next week. Great, isn't it?