How Vista file copy has improved with sp1

Mark Russinovich is very well known within the technical community as an authority on detailed information on the inner workings of Microsoft products. Author of several books including the Windows resource kit “Windows Internals” volume, and founder of Winternals and sysinternals.com, he is now a Technical Fellow in the Platform and Services Division at Microsoft.

In a recent blog post, Mark explains in great detail the file copy process in Vista, why it changed radically from XP and how this impacted real and perceived performance of this basic function. He goes on to explain how some of this has been changed and remedied in Vista Service Pack 1. He makes it clear that some of the code design choices have to be compromises between making things faster in different situations, and that in most cases Vista <> Server 2008 filecopying will be faster using the chosen algorithms than they would be with different choices, or using XP or server 2003 for example.

Copying a file seems like a relatively straightforward operation: open the source file, create the destination, and then read from the source and write to the destination. In reality, however, the performance of copying files is measured along the dimensions of accurate progress indication, CPU usage, memory usage, and throughput. In general, optimizing one area causes degradation in others. Further, there is semantic information not available to copy engines that could help them make better tradeoffs. For example, if they knew that you weren’t planning on accessing the target of the copy operation they could avoid caching the file’s data in memory, but if it knew that the file was going to be immediately consumed by another application, or in the case of a file server, client systems sharing the files, it would aggressively cache the data on the destination system.

The article is also a useful working example of how Process Monitor can help you to see what your machine is really up to. On the same subject, Mark gave a great Tech Ed presentation in Barcelona with some real-world demonstrations of how to use a variety of Sysinternals tools and utilities to detect, find and fix all sorts of system issues. A video of that talk entitled “The Case of the Unexplained…Live!” can be viewed here (it’s just over an hour long).

Vista Service Pack 1 gets the green light

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.

Windows XP service pack 3 Release Candidate available

The release candidate (RC) of Service Pack 3 (sp3) for Windows XP is now available for download – well it has been for a few weeks in fact. This should represent a pretty close similarity to the final “RTM” version, but do remember this is still strictly speaking a beta version so some third-party applications may not work 100%. Don’t install on a critical machine, and ideally not even an important one unless you are sure you are confident enough to roll it back if necessary. If your line of business application won’t work, or your firewall locks up your machine you may wish you hadn’t installed it after all.

So, what’s the point of this service pack?

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GPMC will be removed if you install Vista Service Pack 1 (follow up post)

As I discussed in a previous post, I thought that the removal of the Group Policy Management Console from Vista when installing service pack 1 was a pretty bad idea. David Overton asked if anyone cared about GPMC being pulled out of Vista with sp1, while others claim it really is a good step for a variety of reasons, and I wanted to follow up on this.

There were various articles announcing Vista sp1, including one on the official Vista team blog which managed to say lots about all the good stuff and conveniently forget some things like the removal of the very useful GPMC, which is only mentioned in the whitepaper (and later reported on by various bloggers and journalists of varying degrees of credibility).
» Read the discussion about why GPMC should or should not be removed by Vista service pack 1 »

More bad news for Vista Service pack 1

Apart from the long wait for a service pack for Vista (over a year from initial release) and the hugely bloated size of the “stand-alone” option to apply the service pack to machines without connecting them to the internet, I just learned some bad news.

David Overton posted an article about what’s coming in the first service pack for Vista. In it he links to and quotes this BetaNews article which says:

the service pack will uninstall the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) and GPEdit.msc will edit local Group Policy by default

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