Vista SP1: Small things come in big packages

As for why the service pack is so huge in the first place, Microsoft says several technical decisions come into play.

Microsoft's planned Vista Service Pack 1 may not be adding many features, but it sure does take up a lot of space.

Based on current test versions, the operating system update will be a 1GB file when uncompressed. By way of comparison, Windows XP--the whole thing--shipped on a CD, which only holds about three quarters of a gigabyte. On the plus side, systems that already have the latest Vista patches can be brought up to the Service Pack 1 level with only a 50MB compressed file through Microsoft's online Windows Update utility.

Also notable, installing the OS will require 7GB of free hard drive space, though much of that will be returned to the user once the megapatch is applied.

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Microsoft said its research shows that it shouldn't be a problem for most consumers who are running Vista. Businesses, which sometimes put the operating system in its own partition, may have some issues. Microsoft says that's why it's letting people know now, so hopefully those that are deploying Vista before SP1 can plan ahead.

"We're trying to give the guidance here early," said Shanen Boettcher, a general manager in the Windows unit.

Although most people probably have 7GB of space to temporarily lend to Vista, the requirement could be an issue for folks with ultramobile devices or Mac users running Vista in a partition on their hard drive.

"The data we have shows us that's not going to be a big issue," Boettcher said.

IDC analyst Al Gillen said he didn't expect the 7GB requirement to be too onerous. "If somebody doesn't have 7GB (free), they probably have a system that is pretty marginal to be running Vista anyway," Gillen said.

As for why the service pack is so huge in the first place, Microsoft says several technical decisions come into play. For one, Microsoft is including all of Vista's supported languages in the service pack, so businesses can deploy one version of the update to all their machines in different countries. Also, the company has done work to keep the upgrades as separate components so that individual pieces can be uninstalled, if necessary.

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