Everything You Must Know about Vista SP2 Release Candidate

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Microsoft released the release candidate for Windows Vista SP2 (Vista SP2 RC) to the public yesterday. You can now download it from the Microsoft TechNet website. However, before you install Vista SP2 RC, here are ten essential facts about the latest update to Windows Vista:

  1. SP2 RC doesn't include a lot of visible razzle-dazzle, but....
  2. .. it's designed to make your system work better with the latest hardware...
  3. ...and to clean up after itself.
  4. It includes over 600 hotfixes to help your system work more reliably, but there are a few glitches to watch out for.
  5. You're not ready for Vista SP2 RC if you don't have Vista SP1 installed.
  6. vLite-streamlined Vista SP1 won't work with SP2 RC
  7. Vista SP2 RC is available in a bunch of installation flavors, but if you want to get it via Windows Update right now, you have some extra work to do.
  8. You can help Microsoft make the SP2 installation process better, but nobody's forcing you to do so.
  9. Yeah, your desktop will remind you you're running a pre-release program
  10. Don't forget - RCs don't last forever

Now, let's dig into the details.

Why Install SP2 RC? (Hint: It's Not About the Razzle-Dazzle)

Unlike Vista SP1, Vista SP2 isn't going to make a big difference in the look and feel of Vista. In its FAQ, Microsoft admits that SP2 was "primarily developed with Windows Server 2008 in mind..." (Windows Server 2008 shares a common code base with Windows Vista). So, why install SP2 RC on your Vista SP1 system?

While you won't get sizzle, you will get steak, as SP2 RC give you a chance to preview benefits such as:

Improved hardware support for new technologies:

  • VIA Technologies' Nano 64-bit processors (a popular choice for ultra-compact HTPCs)
  • The most recent version of Bluetooth, Bluetooth v2.1, and Windows Connection Now (WCN) Wi-Fi configuration via the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless (a previously OEM-only update)
  • Blu-Ray Disc recording; you won't need to buy a separate Blu-Ray codec anymore

Improved performance and responsiveness for:

  • Wi-Fi connections after resuming from sleep mode

  • The RSS feeds sidebar

New (and "new") software components:

  • Windows Search 4.0
  • Compcln.exe

Windows Search 4.0 isn't exactly new to Windows Vista users (it's been available as a separate download for Vista and XP users for awhile), but it's now included in SP2 RC.

What's new in 4.0? Besides a lot of management and tuning features for big corporations, you can access index results on remote PCs running Windows Search 4.0 and see remote files show up in search results - very handy if you forgot where you stashed your favorite digital photos or music downloads. It also permits users with sufficient permissions to index and search encrypted files.

Compcln.exe , a command-line utility that removes files that have been replaced by SP2 updates (Screenshot).

Two important notes:

  • You must open the command prompt in elevated mode (run as administrator) before you can use Compcln.
  • You should not use Compcln on your system if you want to uninstall SP2 RC when the final release comes out.

If you want to try Compcln.exe after you install SP2 RC and don't want to reinstall Vista from scratch , make sure you make a full backup of your system first (you can use Complete PC Backup in Ultimate and Business editions, or a third-party image backup with other editions).

How to Find Out What Compcln Removed

If you want to use Compcln to remove older files, why not find out exactly what it removes? Here's a fun experiment to try using Compcln.exe (borrowed from Windows Vista SP2 RC and Windows Server 2008 SP2 RC Test Focus Guide ; the underlined text should be entered into the command prompt window):

1. Capture the installed components state by running the following command:

Run dir “%windir%\” /b/s/a:-d>files_before.txt

2. Run compcln.exe in an elevated command prompt to remove the staged components superseded by SP install:

Run %windir%\system32\compcln.exe

3. Capture the installed components state by running the following command:

Run dir “%windir%\” /b/s/a:-d>files_after.txt

The difference between files_before.txt and files_after.txt is the list of items that were removed  by compcln.exe.

Hotfixes Galore

As with previous service packs, Vista SP2 includes lots of hotfixes: 651 (plus 39 security updates). While the security updates were previously available via Windows Update, only 34 of the hotfixes were previously available via Windows Update . Here's how they break out by category:

All - 1
Applications - 3
Base Technologies - 133
Computer Management - 34
Core Virtualization - 7
Data Services - 12
Desktop Shell - 55
Desktop Technologies - 67
Drivers - 55
Feedback/Supportability - 1
Graphics - 1
Localization - 1
Multimedia - 31
Networking - 55
OS Deployment - 8
Printing and Imaging Technology - 18
Security - 35
Server Technologies - 63
Storage - 54
Tools - 2
Windows Installer - 1
Windows Portable Devices - 1
Uncategorized - 12

Here are a few examples:

  • Improving XPS printer speed ( KB954051 )
  • Fixing DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL errors ( KB955734 )
  • Solving problems with video playback problems with video containing multiple resolutions or when resuming Windows Media Center Live TV from standby ( KB951685 )
  • Solving PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA error caused by some OpenType fonts ( KB957187 )
  • Solving computer lockup when capturing Windows Aero desktop with Print Screen ( KB954436 )

For a complete list of security and hotfixes included in Vista SP2 RC, visit Hotfixes and Security Updates in Windows Server 2008 SP2 RC and Windows Vista SP2 RC for a link to an Excel 2007 spreadsheet.

...and a Few Glitches to Watch Out For

SP2 RC has problems with a few applications, a quirk with live TV closed captioning when Windows Media Center is running in a Window, and a problem with digital signatures in XPS documents. For details, see the Release Notes.

No SP1 Installed? No SP2 for You!

Vista SP2 RC is a departure from previous Microsoft Windows service packs: with SP2 RC, you must have Vista SP1 already installed; SP2 RC does not include SP1. If you're not sure if you're running Vista SP1, open the System properties sheet to find out. If it doesn't say Service Pack 1, you must install SP1 first.

If, somehow, you missed the Vista SP1 upgrade but want to try SP2 RC, you must download and install Vista SP1 first.

So, why did Microsoft decide to keep SP1 files out of SP2? From the FAQ :

Having a cumulative SP2 that includes the updates from SP1 would have made the size too large...in the consumer space the majority of customers have already installed SP1 over WU or will be doing so before SP2, so incorporating SP1 into a cumulative SP2 would take unnecessary time and bandwidth.

vLite Fans, Take Note

Because SP2 RC does not include SP1 files, you cannot install SP2 RC to a Vista SP1 system that's been streamlined with vLite .

However, you're OK if you used vLite only to simplify installation or to slipstream Vista SP1 files with original Vista . If you used vLite to remove some Vista components, you'll need to reinstall Vista (and SP1) before you can upgrade to SP2 RC.

Choosing Your Favorite Way to Get SP2 RC

Whether you prefer an ISO image or an .EXE file, Microsoft has you covered . If you'd like the simplicity of a single download you can install on either 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) systems, grab one of the DVD ISO images:

  • The five-language (English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish) release weighs in at 1.35GB
  • An all-language release is just a bit under 1.65GB

Separate x86 and x64 .EXE versions are also available:

  • The five-language x86 .EXE weighs in a 338.2 to 383.2MB
  • The all-language x86 .EXE is 459.4MB
  • x64 fans will find the five-language .EXE release is 569.6-614.4MB in size
  • The all-language x64 .EXE is 721.3MB.

Unless you're working with a slow Internet connection, you probably don't want to get SP2 RC via Windows Update. If you do, you can download a script and instructions.


Helping Redmond Debug SP2 Installations - If You Want To

Because this is a release candidate, not the final release, Microsoft is still looking for feedback to make sure all is well. If you want to help out, you can download the Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista - Customer Experience Improvement Program for Device Drivers (KB958794) from the Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista SP2 page (look for the Optional Pre-Req links at the top of the page). This program will "improve the quality of the software information that is sent to Microsoft by configuring existing Windows Server/Windows Vista Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP) settings."

Installing SP2 RC

I installed SP2 RC from an .EXE file, and the process worked well - it took less than an hour on my rather elderly 1.5GHz single-core Turion 64 laptop. If you are running non-supported drivers or have other problems that will prevent SP2 RC from installing, you will see warnings when you attempt to install it. Follow the guidance provided to solve the problems before trying to reinstall it.

Got a Full Drive? Here's How Much Disk Space You Need for SP2 RC

For a stand-alone installation:

  • x86-based: 1.9 GB to 3 GB
  • x64-based: 3.3 GB to 5 GB

Windows Update:

  • x86-based: 650 MB
  • x64-based: 900 MB

Integrated installation:

  • x86-based: 11 gigabytes (GB)
  • x64-based: 13 GB

Troubleshooting the Installation

Can't get SP2 RC to install? See the Windows Vista Service Pack 2 Deployment Guide or the TechNet Vista/WinServer2008 Service Pack forum for help.

The Mark of Evaluation

As with previous pre-release versions of Windows Vista, installing Vista SP2 RC puts an Evaluation Version watermark on your desktop (screencap) after you reboot your system a couple of times.

I don't mind this watermark (it reminds me that I'm not running the final version). But,  if you can't stand it, there are ways to remove it . These typically involve modifying the user32.dll.mui file. I haven't used any of them, but if it really bothers you, have at it!

RCs Aren't Forever

Diamonds are forever, but SP2 RC definitely is not. It's designed to stop working on June 1, 2010 . When the final release of SP2 comes out, you'll want to uninstall SP2 RC so you can install the final release.

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