Thursday, December 13, 2007

Some Brief Notes On Service Packs Released This Week

I have been answering a lot of questions off line about these new Service Packs and I thought I would put some of what I have seen so far in a post here on the blog. But before I do that.. let us set some ground rules.

These releases are not final builds. The AT software and hardware you are currently using is more than likely not officially supporting these Service Packs yet. So only download and run these updates if you feel confident that you can either fix the issues on your own or if you know that all your important data is backed up and secure. Another suggestion is that you don't try these updates out on your main computer. Most of the Beta Testers for AT software will tell you that it's best to use a secondary system with any new software before ever loading that new software onto a machine they know and love. And finally .. don't expect a ton of changes or improvements in performance. These particular updates are just maintenance releases. That is they contain a lot of fixes for issues that you would have gotten through Microsoft Update if, of course, you run and install the monthly updates on a regular basis. Oh sure there are some changes in these releases. You just won't be able to easily see them out in the open.

All the info below is based on my 19 month Dell XPS 400 running Windows Vista Ultimate or my box at work. That one being a 5 year old Dell Optiplex P4 under Windows XP. Both are running Office 2007 with my Vista box having 2 GB of RAM and my work box running under 1 GB of older and slower RAM circa 2002. I've got a brand new Gateway Vista Ultimate laptop running all this stuff too. The darn thing is brand spanking new and I don't remember the system's configuration at all. It has 2 GB of RAM at a respectable speed. Beyond that I draw a blank. I am also testing the new Zoom Text USB Drive, more on that later, along with System Access for all my installs this week.

Okay with all that said here's what I have observed.

Office 2007: The SP1 for Office is around 218 MB if you use a stand alone installer instead of Windows or Microsoft Update. The stand alone install has very few screens in it's install shield. The update took me 20 minutes to complete on the older Dell at work. The install process seemed to be Screen Reader friendly. The system may not prompt you to restart once you encounter the "finish" button.

This Service Pack was said to have some updates that would make running AT hardware and software a bit easier however, the only thing I notice is that objects and items tend to be tagged better for mouse users. Outlook 2007 especially has improved labeling on it's folder list and message panes. Tracking for Screen Magnifiers in many parts of Office 2007 is still hit or miss depending on the product you are using at the time. Typing at fast speeds with Screen Magnification does feel more familiar but if you were hoping for a reinvention of the wheel then I am sad to be the one to say that this won't change your overall opinion much. If at all. Opening large files looks to be quicker and autosaving features are more background oriented. Focus and speech may still be effected on older hardware however. And the rate of indexing, along with Windows Desktop Serch for Office users under Windows XP, on older systems is very notable if you are below 1 GB.

The good news isat face value this Service Pack doesn't seem to break anything or crash outright with most of the major AT venders. That isn't an endorsement to run right out on to the web and download it mind you. It is just a semi pro observation that it didn't set anything on fire for me. I still suggest, like I said above, that you wait for the "all clear" signal from your AT software and hardware venders before you take any Service Pack on head first. If we go by the previous track record of Office versus AT we generally see at least one patch on the horizon in the first 90 days after Microsoft drops a SP 1.

Vista: The stand alone installer is somewhere in the 450 MB range for 32 bit flavors of Vista. I had a little trouble getting SA to read the initial install screens, however, after the license agreement all went along without a hitch. The new Gateway laptops we are using off site did load the update a little slower than I would have liked which made speech a little slower than I would have liked as well.

So once you start the file you have to agree to run the update via a security dialog box. Then you have to choose "Allow" under UAC. The "I Accept" license agreement is next followed by a prompt/checkbox that will let you run the update unattended. Naturally, because I am inherently lazy, I chose this option. The system will then start the pre-install unpacking of the files. After this is completed the system will then begin Stage 1 of 3. On average the computer should run and reboot at least 2 times. You will lose speech after the first reboot. That's okay as you will know when you are done as the system will reboot into the desktop like normal once all 3 stages are complete. You should find a box on screen alerting you that the Service Pack installed successfully if all went well. All told you are looking at 1 hour or so from the initial launch of the installer to the final boot into your desktop.

The new Gateway laptop I have at work has not been with us for long. I didn't notice any major changes nor did I see any prompts for updating other services. My Dell at home, however, has been running this installation of Vista for 7 months. And it needed a little more attention. The first thing I noticed was that all my firewall settings in Windows Live OneCare were reset. I had to re-enable several Windows services like Media Player, Internet Explorer and a few programs that Microsoft is using for the reporting of bugs. After a few UAC prompts I thought the rain of "Allow" and "Continue" queries were over. How wrong I was. I have rebooted the system 3 times since I ran the update. And each time I get at least one new program asking for permission to come out from behind the firewall to play. Windows Mail, Windows Sidebar both called out to me but oddly enough the Juice podcast client didn't set off anything. Go fig?

The other odd bit of note is that the Service Pack will re-detect all your connected hardware. This makes sense as SP1 makes changes to the Vista kernel on some deep levels. My X Fi sound card dropped back to default 2.1 instead of my 5.1 setup. I wasn't able to change the configuration at first. A reboot later and I was able to put things back to rights. Also running Windows Update immediately installing SP1 showed me that a new NVIDIA driver was on line. The update showed that it was posted today. I had checked this before I installed SP1 and no update was present. So I am guessing that the driver may possibly be an update for RC1. NVIDIA did just release new beta drivers, version 169.21, for many of their cards today in case anyone is interested.

Now the good stuff. . There are some noticeable differences in speed on my Dell XPS 400. Alt Tabbing through various windows seems faster. Flip 3D seems a bit quicker. And launching programs also feels more responsive. Initial boot times though.. not so much. Now don't misread this remark. This aspect of Vista is to be expected. When you make major changes like this to Vista it usually takes the Reliability and Performance Monitors a few days to catch up. Vista stops loading drivers and services it doesn't need over time. SP1 resets the clock on this function, therefore, I have to rebuild the databases before my cold and warm boot times go back to pre SP1 or better levels. Speaking of reset. My Windows Experience levels had to be reset too. Sadly I am still a lowly 3.1 due to my slow 3D graphics video card. I have a 5.9 on memory though. Man its like the S.A.T.s all over again. Always a low and a high number. Never both the same.

From what I can tell the memory management of Vista has been changed. There was a famous glitch about memory and system slow downs when you would copy or move large batches of files in Vista back at the Operating System's launch window. It was addressed in a patch in June. Or so we were lead to believe. It looks like SP1 may have put this one to rest though. I moved 18 GB of files to and from my Seagate Free Agent 250 GB external hard drive to see if there would be the same issues mentioned above. I also played a media file, archived Windows Mail plus I opened IE7 with a few tabs. In the past the system would crawl even if I closed everything after i copied or moved my files. SP1 seems to not display this trouble from what I can tell. The real proof, however, will come when I leave Firefox up for hours and then try to move something. We will have to see how that goes. But it does feel like Vista is responding better to multiple tasks running in multiple windows.

These are just initial impressions of both Service Packs. I imagine that I might have more to say about them towards the end of the month. If you are experimenting with either one of the releases feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.


basiphobe said...

FWIW, Window-Eyes does officially support Office 2007 SP1, XP SP3 (public beta), and Vista SP1 (not public, but still available).


Shawn Warren said...

Thanks Ranger

We find your observations very helpful.

ZoomText works with these service packs. Some of the fixes in the Office Service packs were in response to ZoomText needs so from our perspective we want users to get them.