Windows Vista Service Pack 2 A guided tour

Tuesday, August 18, 2009
This 264MB monster (or 200MB if you install it via Windows Update) not only fixes bugs in the OS, but also adds brand new functionality both to core services and applications such as Internet Explorer and Outlook Express.

We've been using the beta Release Candidate 2 (RC2) for some time, and generally we're impressed. It seems pretty stable and has not yet created any major errors with the PCs we've installed it on. All the screenshots here were taken using build 2257 of RC2, so it's possible that some details may be changed by the time of the final public release version.

Microsoft's focus with SP2 is security, security and security - many of the changes are deep in the inner workings of XP and won't immediately be obvious to users. They could cause some problems for existing applications, so as ever it's wise to do a full system backup before installation.

In this overview we've concentrated on giving you a visual tour of the major new features - the technical changes are covered in great depth on the Microsoft website if you're interested. We plan to do a more in-depth look at the underlying technology in a future issue.

There are a couple of features not illustrated here, such as the addition of plain text email formatting to Outlook Express, but we've tried to cover as many of them as possible within the available space. The behaviour of Internet Explorer has also been changed, for example, to prevent malicious websites hiding the navigation bar or spawning multiple pop-ups. Overall we believe SP2 is a genuinely worthwhile update - many of the features are well overdue, but 'better late than never' is a phrase that's becoming familiar to most Windows users.

Click on thumbnails for a larger image.

Service Pack 2 is at least a 100MB download. Before you download it you'll be prompted to install the new Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS), which speeds up future patch downloads by only downloading files that have changed.

After installation, the first thing you'll see is the new Security Centre that gives you easy access to your firewall, automatic updates and Internet settings. The antivirus settings can't be changed from here, though. Security Center can be opened from Control Panel.

If the publisher of an executable program can't be determined, Windows will now warn you before it lets you run it. This feature checks whether the program has a digital signature, something that many valid programs don't have at the moment. It's another welcome security feature in SP2.

Bluetooth users will be very happy to see this screen. Service Pack 2 adds native support for Bluetooth - this screen shows the Options tab found when you double-click the new Bluetooth applet in Control Panel. We found it worked well using an unbranded USB Bluetooth dongle, with drivers being found automatically. The control panel lets you configure discovery settings and connections to other Bluetooth devices. You can also set up Bluetooth COM ports.