What to Expect from New Windows Service Pack Betas

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Microsoft has unleashed the first public betas of Service Pack 1 (SP1) for both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Unlike some previous Microsoft service packs, these add little in the way of new capabilities, but there are still some compelling features that IT administrators should be aware of.

The SP1 betas for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are not intended for the feint of heart, but contain a variety of features worth evaluating for IT admins.
A message on the Windows Server Division WebLog announces "We managed to get this puppy out the door a few weeks early, so take advantage and download the code to evaluate the new features and benefits that SP1 can provide for server and desktop installations. The final version of SP1 is due out in the first half of next year."

The two biggest features of the SP1 beta are Dynamic Memory and RemoteFX. Dynamic Memory enables IT administrators to pool the physical memory on a server and dynamically allocate the memory to virtual machines running on that host based on the current workloads.

The RemoteFX feature enhances the virtual desktop experience of Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. RemoteFX enables end users to access virtual machines from a wider variety of devices and platforms while maintaining a rich graphic experience through server-side graphics processing.

Those are not the only two features of the SP1 beta, though. The Notable Changes doc from Microsoft lays out a more detailed overview of what has been changed unique to either Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows 7, as well as what changes are common across each platform.

According to the doc, the Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 beta also includes enhancements to the scalability and high availability of DirectAccess, support for Managed Service Accounts (MSAs) in secure branch office scenarios, support for a higher volume of authentication traffic on domain controllers over slow connections, and enhancements to failover clustering with storage.

The changes unique to the Windows 7 SP1 beta are a little less compelling. The Microsoft doc outlines that the Windows 7 SP1 beta includes additional support for communication with third-party federation services, improved HDMI audio performance, and a correction to how mixed-orientation XPS documents are printed.

The updates common to both the Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 SP1 betas are comprised of a change in the behavior of the "Restore previous folders at logon" functionality so that folders are restored to their previous positions rather than being restored cascaded. It also includes enhanced support for additional RRAS and IPSec identities, and support for Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX)--a 256-bit processor instruction set designed for better performance for applications that are floating point intensive.

Microsoft stresses that the Windows 7 SP1 is not for consumers. In fact, during the SP1 beta download process, Microsoft asks "what occupation best describes you?" Answering anything less than IT Worker--including Tech Enthusiast--results in a rejection from Microsoft with the following message: "Thank you for your interest in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta! The evaluation version you are attempting to download is for IT Professionals and Developers only."

The SP1 betas are available in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish, and IT administrators and developers can download them here. SP1 beta testers should also be aware that the SP1 beta will expire on June 30, 2011. The system will begin warning of the impending expiration as of March 30, 2011. Once the SP1 beta expires, systems will have to either be upgraded--ostensibly by applying the official release of SP1, or returned to the RTM build.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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