Vista’s much-awaited service pack 1 has had the go-ahead and is “released to manufacturing” (RTM). This means they can start pressing CD’s and get things moving through distribution channels, OEM and retail so people will soon be able to buy the product with sp1 built in (“slipstreamed”).
Read more about the release of Service Pack 1 for Vista here. The short version is that it won’t be available to actually download until mid-March
One of the benefits likely to get most press will be the changes to how Microsoft enforce their licencing through the “Windows Genuine Advantage” (WGA) programme which requires the software to be activated in order to continue using the full functionality. This has been held back from all the beta versions and will only take effect in the final released version. Paul Thurrott discusses this at his SuperSite for Windows:
First, Microsoft is disabling the two most common exploits that exist today for bypassing product activation in Vista … Pirate Windows users utilizing one of these hacks will see their systems return to the intended state–typically a grace period countdown–once SP1 is installed.
The second change is more dramatic. … If the product activation period expires, for example, Vista moves into Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM), where the user can only access the IE Web browser for 60 minutes at a time before being logged out; … Non-Genuine State (NGS), occurs when an activated copy of Vista fails a Web-based validation check, such as when you attempt to download software from the Microsoft Web site. In this case, certain features–like Windows Aero and ReadyBoost–are completely disabled, while others–like Windows Update and Windows Defender–work in limited ways only.
Beginning with SP1, RFM and NGS are a thing of the past.
Improvements to the software itself generally focus on performance and stability, but it does also improve on driver support and providing better APIs for third-party products such as anti-virus and desktop search (partly due to complaints that vendors were being “locked out” and could not develop products on an equal footing with Microsoft themselves).
One area which should be much better is the slow copying of files (even within a disk) which has plagued some systems. I will run some test copies of sets of large and small files and once I have the service pack installed I’ll post some results on how much performance gain I get.