The final version of Vista SP1 focuses on under-the-hood improvements to reliability, security and performance, with very few changes made to the interface or Vista's features. Think of it as a giant, glorified set of patches and fixes rather than a clear and visible change to the operating system.

Although Vista Service Pack 1 won't be available to the general public until sometime in March, I received a copy of the final code and put it through its paces. My verdict? Don't expect many surprises from SP1 - think of it as a big, glorified set of fixes and patches rolled into one.

The service pack leaves just about all of the operating system's features intact and targets performance, reliability and security. One fix - the death of the so-called kill switch - will be welcomed by many, as I'll explain later.

One of the biggest benefits Microsoft touts for Vista SP1 is faster performance, notably the speed with which it copies files to local disks and across networks. But on my test machine, copying to local disks and across networks with Vista SP1 is generally slightly slower than pre-SP1 and lags far behind Windows XP.

Installation

Installation of SP1 was straightforward and took a little over an hour. My PC rebooted multiple times and required no action on my part. At various points during installation, you'll be told that you're at Stage 1, Stage 2 or Stage 3 of a three-stage process, and you'll be told the percentage of that stage that still remains. In my installation, however, I found that I was given misleading information. For example, after I was told Stage 3 was complete, I got a message telling me that Stage 3 was 0 percent complete. Still, given that you don't need to take any action on them, these misleading messages are no more than minor irritants.

One more minor irritant may happen when the installation is complete and you log in. You may be greeted, as I was, by a warning that there are "Multiple Security Problems with your Computer," even though I had no such problems before the SP1 install. Click the Security centre icon, and you'll be able to find out the source of the security problems. In my case, SP1 had shut off Windows Defender and User Account Control (no great loss, of course). From the Security centre, you can turn Windows Defender and User Account Control back on, if you'd like.