Improved startup repair tool, media throttling among Vista SP1 changes

To reassure customers that it really has been addressing consumers' concerns about Vista, Microsoft has made its change log to Windows Vista SP1 publicly available early.

Microsoft has released early its final change log for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 -- an indication that the release of the software itself could be imminent. Among the changes and additions which the company has confirmed are several that directly address customer complaints, including one of the big ones: system slowdowns while running multimedia files.

With Windows XP, running multiple tasks while watching a movie could cause the movie to become staggered and stop in spots. To overcome that problem, Vista's engineers employed a mechanism that shifted the priority to the media player so that the movie runs smoothly, or the MP3 plays without a hitch. Trouble was, that forced priority shift forced a throttling down of all other processes, resulting in file copies and downloads that were agonizingly slow.


Microsoft security engineer Mark Russinovich used his own process monitoring tool in a demonstration of this throttling procedure in action last June. Now, the company confirms that Vista SP1 admins will have the option of setting the network throttling index value for themselves.

In fact, Microsoft is now promising 25% faster file copies locally overall, and 50% file copies between remote systems.

Also listed among the SP1 additions is an updated version of the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE), which fixes some problems people had with the Startup Repair Tool. While ostensibly the miniature version of the Windows kernel is able to restore system setups that have been corrupted due to missing files, some were having trouble getting WinRE to wade through corrupted system directories...due to missing files. That problem is apparently solved, and you no longer need to have the missing files restored in order to find out what missing files you need to restore.

Veterans of waiting and waiting for the first Windows Vista will recall the excitement over ReadyDrive, one of the flash memory enablers in the operating system. Its job is to load certain system information into flash memory in order to expedite boot times. As it turned out, some customers reported the reverse: boot times that were slowed down, immensely, through the use of ReadyDrive. That wasn't across the board by any means, but for those whom that problem impacted, that fact didn't matter much.

In its advance change log, Microsoft acknowledged that some ReadyDrive users faced boot times of five minutes or longer, and that the culprit behind that problem has been addressed and fixed. If it hasn't been, we probably won't have to wait five minutes to hear the first complaints.

At long last, for the first time, Vista adds support for a critical VPN service: Secure Sockets Tunneling Protocol. Microsoft developed its parent Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) for Windows Server 2003, but it's never been an intrinsic part of the client OS until now. The problem with most VPNs on Windows systems today is that they employ point-to-point tunneling (PPTP) or layer 2 tunneling (L2TP), which often find themselves blocked by firewalls. SSTP is an alternative protocol, not just a client setting, so the network server must be using SSTP as well -- so yes, this will probably be a heavily Windows-dependent feature. But it may give users a way to avoid having to defeat their own firewalls just to communicate remotely with their companies.

One particular addition may become controversial at some future date: It involves how Vista applications acquire administrator privileges. In Vista, a program's ability to perform a restricted task has required it to interrupt the user and prompt him for an administrator password. This eliminates the possibility of a malicious application acquiring such privileges clandestinely.

With SP1, a new Group Policy Object (GPO) called "Allow UAccess" gives an administrator a way to exempt specified applications from having to prompt for admin privileges. There's a convenience-oriented reason for this feature, the change log explains: "This allows a remote helper to enter administrative credentials during a Remote Assistance session."

Since GPOs are administered remotely, an admin should be able to set this policy for multiple computers from a remote location. While this may not turn out to be a back entrance to the operating system that somebody just opened, it's impossible to imagine somebody out there giving it a shot.

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