A little more than one year after its release, Windows Vista will receive its first service pack update in March. Microsoft says the pack will offer better compatibility with third-party hardware, increased reliability, tighter security, and better performance. But unlike the last Windows Service Pack release, Windows XP SP2, which offered users a new Windows Firewall, an improved Automatic Updates feature, and a pop-up ad blocker for Internet Explorer, Windows Vista SP1 is largely a code update, devoid of new eye candy, and very light on "must-have" features for home users.
Windows Vista SP1 improves the overall upgrade process, fixes hundreds of tiny problems, and makes it easier for more third-party vendors to write stable code for Vista. Before hitting next, we recommend first clicking the "What you should know before installing Service Pack 1" link.
We found that Microsoft offers a reasonable amount of support for the SP1 upgrade. For example, before you begin there is a link to a Read Me page called "What you should know before installing Service Pack 1" that covers what to do before installing, during, and after installation. Also, Microsoft has improved the upgrade process itself so that if the installation of one update fails, it tries another while preparing to rerun the failed update. This should speed installation for most users.
During the upgrade, our test computer was unusable and automatically rebooted several times. A display informed us exactly where the install was in terms of overall progress (for example, "Configuring update, stage 1 of 3, 34 percent complete").
One thing we noted was that our Windows Experience Index, a measure of how well your computer runs Windows Vista, improved from 4.2 to 4.5. That's probably because of additional drivers added during the SP1 upgrade.