Vista SP2 beta: Nothing obviously new has been added

The changes to Vista are under the hood and even they are far from earth-shaking

If you install the beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) expecting to see visible changes to your version of Vista, you'll be sorely disappointed. At least in this initial beta, all the changes are under the hood, and even they are far from earth-shaking.

Microsoft says that it has fixed compatibility problems with the third-party Spy Sweeper and ZoneAlarm security applications, enhanced hardware support for Direct X, improved Wi-Fi connections after a system resumes from sleep, improved Windows Search, added support for the newest Bluetooth specification (2.1), and rolled up all previous Vista updates.

[ Related: "Microsoft puts Vista SP2 beta on Windows Update." ]

In addition, Microsoft says that the RSS gadget now uses fewer resources, that it has added support for burning Blu-ray discs, and that a new feature called Windows Connect Now (WCN) makes it simpler to configure Wi-Fi networks.

But in reality, what's really new in SP2 is somewhat murky. For example, support for Bluetooth 2.1 and WCN have been available since July, via what Microsoft calls the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless. That feature pack was available only to system manufacturers, not users, so perhaps Microsoft means that with SP2 these wireless features are now directly available to consumers for the first time. But anyone who has a Vista PC purchased from a system manufacturer that includes the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless already has WCN and support for Bluetooth 2.1.

Installation a snap -- with a few caveats
You have several choices for installing Vista SP2, including via Windows Update, as a stand-alone installer or by downloading an .iso image file, which you can then burn to a DVD and install from the DVD.

Initially, the beta was available only on MSDN and TechNet before public release, and at that point was available only as an .iso image. I downloaded the image, but had troubles with installation. The first .iso image burner I used, the free ImgBurn application, said it could not handle that particular .iso image. I had used this software to install .iso images before during the original Vista installation cycle, so this was odd.

Next, I tried Nero 7 to burn an image. It had trouble as well -- when the burning was complete, the only file on my DVD was an .ini file and nothing else, so I couldn't install the beta. I never found out the source of the problem. Given that the .iso file is now in public beta and no outcry has been heard, the problem, if any, has most likely been fixed.

When the beta became public, I used the stand-alone installer, which was a 397MB download. Installation went smoothly, albeit slowly. After creating a System Restore point, the entire installation took an hour and required only a single reboot. It proceeded unattended. It was as simple an update as you could ask for.

If you install the service pack via Windows Update, the download is considerably smaller -- about 41MB.

Some weird anomalies
When you install SP2, you won't notice any changes to Windows Vista. It alerts you that the upgrade is complete. Just to make sure, you can also go to Control Panel --> System and Maintenance --> System, and at the top of the screen, you get a confirmation message. Other than that, though, don't expect to see anything new.

But although I found nothing new in Vista SP2, I did find several odd anomalies. The first had to do with power settings on my laptop. Normally, when I run my laptop, an icon runs in the System Tray, notifying me if I'm using battery power, showing me how much power is left, and letting me change my power plan among Power Saver, Balanced, and High Performance. Right after installation, that power-saving applet seemed to have disappeared. However, after I rebooted, it appeared again.

Equally odd was that when Vista SP2 launched, it showed me that one of the updates available was Windows Search 4.0, even though Windows Search 4.0 is supposed to be part of SP2. Again, though, the reboot fixed the difficulty.

However, the reboot also caused a problem -- Vista no longer recognized my wireless adapter. But when I rebooted yet one more time, Vista recognized the adapter without a problem. The moral of the story: This is beta software, so beware.

The bottom line
Should you install this service pack now? Unless you have some need to do it because you're a systems administrator -- or if you're one of those people who has a burning desire to test new software, no matter its usefulness -- there's no need to try it out now. In fact, you shouldn't try it, because you may run into problems, as I did, with your wireless adapter. You'll be better off to wait until the expected April ship date when it's supposed to be fully baked.

Note: For a list of the most important changes in SP2, see Microsoft's "Notable Changes in Windows Server 2008 SP2 Beta and Windows Vista SP2 Beta." You can also find a list of included hotfixes and security updates.

Computerworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.

This story, "Vista SP2 beta: Nothing obviously new has been added" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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