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FAQ: Vista's SP1 semisecrets

Microsoft promised changes in Vista; did it follow through?

February 6, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. has been lowering expectations about Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) since before it even confirmed there would be one. Numerous times, company executives and managers have told users and the press that Vista SP1 would not be like Windows XP SP2, the last desktop operating system service pack the company released.

"This is not about adding new features," David Zipkin, a senior product manager for Windows Vista, told Computerworld last August, comparing SP1 to XP's SP2, which was as much a new operating system as an update.

Really? Could have fooled us.

We took a spin through the change log for SP1, which has been released to manufacturing but won't be available from Microsoft until next month, and found a slew of things new to Vista. Not new as in unknown -- although there are a few surprises -- but new as in not seen in the initial edition of Vista launched in January 2007.

A recounting of the new and/or changed in Vista is unnecessary, and repetitive of what Microsoft has done itself, so for the most part, we went after the most interesting modifications that had been promised at one time or another to see if Microsoft followed through.

We call them "semisecrets" only because it's easy to forget that Microsoft committed to doing one thing or changing another. Plus, it's alliterative.

Does SP1 kill the "kill switch"?
Microsoft has come through on the promise it made back in early December 2007, and backed off from the dire side effects of a validation failure or if the user neglects to activate in the first 30 days.

Rather than drop into what Microsoft called "reduced functionality mode" -- where the only thing that worked was the browser and then for only an hour at a time -- SP1 amps the nags to activate and slaps a black background on the desktop.

Machines that fail a Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation test -- as some thousands did last year when Microsoft's servers went on the blink -- will see the same black background, but they won't be nagged about the need to buy a license.

What anticrack patches does SP1 apply?
Although Microsoft dialed back on Vista's notorious "kill switch" -- what the company called "reduced functionality mode" -- it has also included two updates designed to block popular pirate hacks.

The first is a fix for what's dubbed the "OEM Bios exploit," a crack that modifies system files and the BIOS to mimic product activation done at the factory by computer manufacturers. The second, which goes by the name "Grace Timer exploit," monkeys with the activation grace period -- it's normally 30 days, but can be extended -- so that it doesn't end until the year 2099.



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