Windows 7 SP1 now available for everyone

Microsoft shipped the most important update yet to Windows 7 yesterday–or so you’d conclude from the Redmond, Wash., company’s home-page promotion of this Service Pack 1 patch. Its name would suggest the same; Microsoft ranks Service Packs among its most comprehensive, sweeping fixes, issued only two or three times for an edition of Windows.


Although the initial dialog in Windows Update suggested this download could run anywhere from 44 to 533.1 megabytes, this machine only needed a 62.5 MB download, or less than a tenth ofsome of Apple’s Mac OS X updates. Windows Update took about 30 minutes to install SP1, after which the computer spent another 24 minutes in a post-reboot “configuring” session.

And then I struggled in vain to find any difference from this update. Not all Service Packs incorporate major changes–Windows XP’s SP3 was remarkable for its lack of headline features after the desperately-needed security upgrades brought by SP2–but Win 7 SP1 may be Microsoft’s least consequential Service Pack ever. For most home users, its primary utility is ensuring that they’re current with all of Microsoft’s prior patches and fixes, including some that were not automatically distributed.

That’s not a bad thing. An operating system shouldn’t need major corrections a year and a half after its debut.

But it is a problem when an update, however boring it may be, is so poorly documented. Microsoft’s “What’s Included” page says this download “includes previously released security, performance, and stability updates” but also brings new, vaguely defined corrections:

SP1 also includes new improvements to features and services in Windows 7, such as improved reliability when connecting to HDMI audio devices, printing using the XPS Viewer, and restoring previous folders in Windows Explorer after restarting.

But the “Service Pack 1 resources” page linked to from there did not have the promised release notes that would provide a full description of this update. Instead, it reported that “This content is no longer available” and suggested visiting a third support page.

The links under that page’s “Key Resources” heading promised a full report but instead directed me to a fourth tech-support page, on which I could download a series of documents about the update. Not regular pages I could view in my browser, or even PDFs readable with a plugin, but Microsoft Office documents.

One, a Microsoft Word file called “Notable Changes in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1,” revealed that SP1’s consumer-relevant updates didn’t extend beyond those listed on the first, “What’s Included” page. (To spare you the download, I’ve reproduced those portions after the jump.) Another, an Excel spreadsheet named “Hotfixes and Security Updates included in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1,” itemized the 755 “hotfix” patches (not all of which you would have received through Windows Update) and 41 security fixes (which you should have gotten already) rolled into SP1. Some of those earlier updates, however, only affect Windows Server 2008, Win 7’s younger, non-consumer-oriented sibling.

So, yes, Win 7 SP1 is a big deal. It’s just apparently not big enough for Microsoft to document properly.

I hope that your Win 7 SP1 install has been as drama-free as mine, but if it wasn’t, I’m sure I’ll read about it in the comments. How has that upgrade gone for you?

Microsoft’s “Notable Changes…” document lists three updates to Windows 7 and four shared with Windows Server 2008. Of those, three might affect home users anytime soon. Here they are:

Improved HDMI audio device performance

A small percentage of users have reported issues in which the connection between computers running Windows 7 and HDMI audio devices can be lost after system reboots. Updates have been incorporated into SP1 to ensure that connections between Windows 7 computers and HDMI audio devices are consistently maintained.

Corrected behavior when printing mixed-orientation XPS documents

Prior to the release of SP1, some customers have reported difficulty when printing mixed-orientation XPS documents (documents containing pages in both portrait and landscape orientation) using the XPS Viewer, resulting in all pages being printed entirely in either portrait or landscape mode. This issue has been addressed in SP1, allowing users to correctly print mixed-orientation documents using the XPS Viewer.

Change to behavior of “Restore previous folders at logon” functionality

SP1 changes the behavior of the “Restore previous folders at logon” function available in the Folder Options Explorer dialog. Prior to SP1, previous folders would be restored in a cascaded position based on the location of the most recently active folder. That behavior changes in SP1 so that all folders are restored to their previous positions.

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