What it is reasonable to expect from a 434Mb software download these days? If my experience with Vista’s Service Pack 1 (SP1) is anything to go by it’s tempting to say that it’s sweet to install but devoid of significance.

Reaching Vista Build 6001, Service Pack 1 is like getting a medal for surviving a battle in which nobody was hurt. But look below the surface and there’s more to this update than meets the eye.

If you’re an SME, before running SP1, research the list of programs known to have issues with it. SP1 is supposed to stop installs itself where it detects significant issues. You can read a detailed review elsewhere on our site.

It takes around an hour to run its course on an up-to-date Vista (excluding the download time), involves only one reboot (though that might depend on the PC in question), and so little obvious difference to my laptop’s operation it was tempting to believe that the whole thing was stuffed with straw. One thing that is worth pointing out: Vista SP1 is a lot quicker to do its work than the sclerotic XP SP2, but that was, admittedly, a panic release in the face of some mighty deficiencies.

The performance gains are not obvious at first. Vista SP1 is definitely faster to browse drives, directories and shares, almost up to XP performance. Vista was, previously, very, very slow at this operation, so it’s hard to count this as much of an advance. File transfer speeds are also supposed to be improved though I’m assuming you’d have to be copying a large number to notice much benefit because I couldn’t see it on informal tests.

Does it boot up faster than before? Not really. Does it close down faster than before? Not really. Sleep mode on laptops is about the same (it hasn’t been an issue for some time on Vista) though some have reported hibernation mode to be improved.

Going through SP1 feature by feature is pretty tedious. If you want more information then here’s a good link . Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

SP1 is probably going to make only a small difference to the uptake by corporate users; of more significance is perhaps the appearance of tools such as the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT), the successor to the Business Desktop Deployment (BDD). This helps automate deploying desktop images, integrating them with Windows Server 2008 among other things.

If Vista deployment is one of your worries then knowing that there is a new generation of deployment tool might make the difference.

How you get on with SP1 will probably depend on the PC it is being applied to – it’s an automatic update from late April anyway. Just don’t expect it to change your view of Vista at a deeper level. If you resent it, you’ll probably still resent it. If you see it as inevitable, then you’ve passed the point of anger anyway.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter what Microsoft has put into SP1, or not put into SP1. What matters is that they’ve made the effort to do something. Vista has some nice features (not least its prodigious ability to tell you what’s wrong in diagnostics), but nobody especially asked for it in the memory- and disk-hogging form that turned up on new PCs or upgrade CDs in 2007. But they’ve started to put things right that should never have been wrong.

Here's hoping they start to sort out the stability and performance problems of Office 2007, arguably a much bigger issue for the average user or admin.