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Review: Vista SP1 beta's biggest mod is to the search function

October 1, 2007 12:00 PM ET

When you install a third-party search program such as Google Desktop Search, you use that program's normal configuration feature to make it your default search tool. However, in SP1, you can also switch back and forth between the programs you want to use as your default. Choose Start --> Default Programs --> Set your default programs, and you'll see a screen that allows you to change which search tool to use by default.

changing the default search tool

Changing the default search tool. (Click for larger view.)

In addition, if you choose Start --> Default Programs --> Associate a file type or protocol with a specific program, you'll see a new entry in the protocol section, called Search. Use this screen to configure what program opens when you click on a file that uses the Windows Search protocol.

Windows Search Protocol

Changing the default program for the Windows Search protocol. (Click for larger view.)

For details about changes SP1 makes to search, see this Microsoft Knowledge Base article. For more information about the Windows Search protocol, see this separate Knowledge Base article.

Microsoft has made some smaller cosmetic changes to Vista as well in SP1. The Disk Defragmenter (Control Panel --> System & Maintenance --> Defragment your hard drive) now lets you choose which volumes to defragment.

new disk defrag options

With SP1, you'll be able to choose which volumes to defragment. (Click for larger view.)

In addition, if you use BitLocker for encryption, you can also choose which drives to encrypt.

SP1 aims at performance and stability improvements, including faster browsing of network shares. On my test machine, though, the beta wouldn't allow me to browse to another Vista PC on my network -- although I could browse XP machines with no problem. Odder still is that I can make a remote desktop connection to take over my other Vista PC using remote control, but I can't browse the PC using Windows Explorer or the Network Map.

That issue did not affect another Computerworld SP1 beta tester, who found Vista's network browse window much improved. While still slow to load the first time, he found that SP1 -- for the first time ever -- brought up his entire network without issue. Other windows snapped open with more authority, too. He did note that SP1 seemed to be giving priority to his wireless networking connection over a 1GB wired LAN connection. Even after attempting to reset the LAN connection, Vista SP1 would eventually revert to using WiFi to latch on the Internet.

As for the installation of SP1, on my machine it went smoothly, if slowly. It took about an hour and 15 minutes on my 1.83-GHz Core Duo laptop. The machine rebooted several times and did so automatically, requiring no intervention after installation began.

The bottom line on SP1? Considering that it's still early beta, it's tough to know how much of a performance improvement it will offers users when it's released early in 2008. The only significant interface change is to the search function, which will affect you only if you decide to use a search technology other than Windows' built-in search.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld, and the author of more than 35 books, including Windows Vista in a Nutshell.

Read more about Windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.

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