What the new XP and Vista service packs mean to Windows Server 2008 admins

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has been released to most users, and Windows XP Service Pack 3 is right around the corner. So why should you care if you're also considering adopting Windows Server 2008? How do the respective service packs fit into the overall design?

Let's take a look at each of them.

Windows Vista Service Pack 1

Perhaps the most well-known change in store for Vista Service Pack 1 users is the alleged improvement in file-copying speeds between SP1 machines and Windows Server 2008 computers. Some tests -- using prerelease builds of both of these products -- showed a comparatively significant improvement in transferring both a large number of smaller files and a single, extremely large file over a link to a Windows Server 2008 machine.

The increase in file copy speed isn't actually limited to only Windows Vista SP1 to Windows Server 2008 transfers. Indeed, a reviewer from PC World confirmed the improvement in an experiment where she copied 1.9GB of files, consisting of 562 JPEG images, from a 2GB Kingston SD Card to a PC. The file copy averaged 384 seconds over three passes using the gold copy of Windows Vista. With SP1 installed, the copy process averaged 348 seconds, according to PC World.

Now, of course, different machines in different conditions may affect results, and one also has to think about how important file copy speeds are in the grand scheme of usability. And certainly not everyone agrees that Vista's file-copying performance has improved.

Interestingly, the initial, release-to-manufacturing version of Windows Server 2008 is known internally within Microsoft Corp. as the Service Pack 1 version. This is because both Windows client and server are now based on the same code, and have the same kernel. Along with this parity, the same patches and updates apply to both Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008. It may seem strange to have the first release of an operating system call itself Service Pack 1, but the first service pack for Windows Server 2008 will indeed be named Service Pack 2, and should appear in the channels at roughly the same time as Vista Service Pack 2.

Some other miscellaneous improvements relating to SP1 with regard to Windows Server 2008:

  • Bitlocker, the drive encryption feature, now supports encrypting other volumes besides just the main C:/ drive in a system. The Bitlocker code in the Vista client has now achieved feature parity with that in Windows Server 2008.
  • Terminal Services printing is improved, specifically when using a printer that's local to a machine from within a Terminal Services session.

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has released to manufacturing already and is available to subscribers of some of Microsoft's premium support services, with wider, general availability scheduled for sometime in early- to mid-March.

Windows XP Service Pack 3

The biggest change in Windows XP Service Pack 3 for Windows Server 2008 administrators is the addition of Network Access Protection support. NAP is the feature in Server 2008 that allows you to set up criteria that define a healthy network client, and to bounce machines that don't fit that baseline off the network via a variety of methods.

Windows XP contains the system health agents and system health validations that will allow NAP policies configured on Windows Server 2008 machines to be used for verifying that a client meets admin-specified guidelines. XP Service Pack 2 and earlier does not include this capability within the product itself, though it may be available for download later.

Additionally, with XP Service Pack 3 integrated media, you no longer are required to enter a product key during the initial setup. This is similar to behavior in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Once the system is installed and is up and running, through Windows Genuine Advantage, the user will be prompted to add a valid product key, generally within three to 30 days depending on the edition of the product that you install.

(Note that the 64-bit version of Windows XP is updated through service packs for Windows Server 2003, not through regular XP service packs.)

Windows XP Service Pack 3 is currently still in development, though in the home stretch. In fact, Release Candidate 2 of SP3 has been released and may signal that a final build is imminent.

The last word

While nothing revolutionary is present in XP Service Pack 3 and Vista Service Pack 1, some under-the-hood improvements allow both to work better when used with Windows Server 2008. Feature parity in Vista, along with NAP support and some file performance improvements in Windows XP, should put these releases on your radar.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Windows IT Pro magazine, PC Pro and TechNet Magazine. He also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is currently an editor for Apress Inc., a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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