Microsoft downplayed the importance of this service pack because they didn't want organizations to wait for it. Microsoft's official stance is that service packs are not important anymore since we have now Windows Update, anyway. Well, I counted 390 hotfixes that were not publicly available before. All in all, SP1 contains 479 patches. So the majority of hotfixes are new! There are also 109 new features included, but some of them have been released before. Microsoft is not specific about which of them are new.
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New Hotfixes and Security Updates
This page lists all hotfixes and security updates that are included in SP1. Microsoft was friendly enough to mark those updates which were not publicly available before.
The number of new features can be obtained from a white paper about the notable changes in SP1. Most of them are only minor enhancements. However, I recommend skimming over this paper. Maybe you find one or two features that are important for your environment.
Microsoft enhanced Vista in several areas. The numbers in parentheses signify the number of new features that were added: Hardware Ecosystem Support and Enhancements (11), Reliability Improvements (9), Performance and Power Consumption (29), Security Improvements (16), Support for New Technologies and Standards (11), Desktop Administration and Management (14), Setup and Deployment Improvements (15), Interoperability Improvements (2), Feature or API Changes (3), General Improvements and Enhancements (10)
One of the major reasons why Vista adoption is slow are its hardware and software compatibility issues. I often heard people saying that they want to wait for SP1 in the hope that it will fix their compatibility problem. This is a big misunderstanding. If you have hardware that is not supported by Vista, then SP1 won't most likely be of help, either. Most new drivers were already made available thru Windows Update. There are a few new drivers in SP1, but they are only for "critical devices" such as video cards.
SP1 probably also won't solve software compatibility problems. Microsoft already released a couple of compatibility updates before SP1 came out. From what I have read, there are no further improvements with respect to compatibility in this service pack. There even is a certain chance that the compatibility of Vista SP1 got worse. Any new operating system version always affects compatibility. This is also true for SP1. Microsoft officials have no problems in admitting this:
Applications that have compatibility issues with Windows Vista today will most likely continue to have the same issues with Windows Vista with SP1.
And in the same document:
There is a chance that some applications ultimately will not run on the final version of Windows Vista SP1, even though they run on Windows Vista today.
I think rumors about Vista's bad performance is the number 2 reason after its compatibility issues for the slow Vista adoption. Many hoped that SP1 will improve Vista's performance. There are indeed a couple of features in SP1 that might remedy some common problems. As far as I can see, these improvements affect network-related performance issues and also improve the general responsiveness of the operating system.
There have been contradicting reports about the performance gains of Vista SP1. The list below is just a small collection:
Computerworld: Slowing down Vista with SP1
PCWORLD: Vista SP1 no faster than stock OS, say testing experts
APC magazine: LEAKED: Vista SP1 analysed in-depth
Windows Now: Windows Vista SP1 Performance - The Real First Look
However, I doubt somehow that the overall performance of your Vista machine will improve if the hardware is not powerful enough. So the best way to boost-up performance is to equip your PC with 2GB RAM. If Vista still seems to be slow and your hard disk is busy all the time I recommend disabling Vista Search. These two measures probably will be much more helpful than SP1 with regards to performance.
As usual, this SP will be available through Windows Update and as standalone installer. Which version you need depends on the way you deploy service packs. You should just know that the standalone file is really big this time. The reason is that different languages are included. There is one version with 450MB containing 5 languages, and one coming with all available languages which has 550MB. I suppose the huge size is also caused by what Microsoft calls "alignment with Windows Server 2008". Vista and Server 2008 share about 70% code base. That means changes in Server 2008 often affect DLLs in Vista even though these enhancements are irrelevant on desktop.
If you get SP1 via Windows Update you just have to download about 65MB. The size is relatively small because with Windows Update you have to download changed bytes only. That is, if only a few bytes have changed in DLL, then only those bytes will be transferred, but not the complete file. If you use WSUS to deploy SP1 you can use the "Express Installation Files" feature (sometimes called delta delivery) to reduce bandwidth usage between your WSUS server and the clients.
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You can find further information about Vista SP1 in the Windows Vista SP1 Guides for IT Professionals.