Is a service pack still a service pack when it's called by another name? For Windows 8, it might be. In a highly unusual move, Microsoft is now offering a “Windows 8 Client and Windows Server 2012 General Availability Cumulative Update” via Windows Update, that rolls up changes and improvements Microsoft has made to Windows 8 and makes them available to users even before the official launch of the new operating system.
Normally, of course, service packs wait at least a few weeks or months following the release of an operating system, and they’re a major event. Windows XP had three; Vista has two, and Microsoft has released just one for Windows 7, to date.
Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division at Microsoft, explained that the period of time between the release of a new operating system to manufacturing, and the time it is released to retail, had been used to match PCs with the new software components, drivers and companion software they needed to properly function. In some cases, that meant fundamental changes to Windows, too. But early purchasers might not get access to those chanes and updates.
“We would often create dozens of changes for each [manufacturer] for these new PCs,” Sinofsky wrote in a blog post. “Those changes would be deployed during manufacturing of those PCs and thus would be invisible to customers. While those changes could potentially apply to a broader range of PCs, we did not have in place the testing and certification to broadly distribute these updates. As a result, customers would have to wait until the first service pack to see these enhancements. We know many folks would spend time working to uncover these... enhancements in a desire to have the most up to date Windows.”
Now, however, Microsoft has managed to improve its processes so that its manufacturing partners aren’t the only ones seeing the benefits. “By developing better test automation and test coverage tools we are happy to say that Windows 8 will be totally up to date for all customers starting at General Availability,” Sinofsky wrote.
What Do You Get?
Microsoft said that the “General Availability Cumulative Update” would include four major elements:
- Increased power efficiency to extend battery life
- Performance improvements in Windows 8 applications and Start screen
- Improved audio and video playback in many scenarios
- Improved application and driver compatibility with Windows 8
To apply it, perform the following steps:
- Open the Charms bar by swiping in from the right edge of a touch screen. (If you use a mouse, move the mouse to the upper- or lower-right corner of the display.)
- Click “Search,” and type in “Windows Update.”
- Click “Settings,” and install the optional updates.
Is This A Good Thing?
On the surface (so to speak), Microsoft’s “mini service pack” appears to be a good thing: Yes, there are major revisions that Microsoft needs to make with Windows 8, but the performance improvements would roll out anyway, over time. The early adopters can simply take advantage of them before Windows 8 rolls out. And who doesn’t like a free upgrade?
Still, users posting comments to Sinofksy’s post have identified other problems, such as slowdowns after applying the patch, probably due to nagging driver issues. A more serious one is that which Microsoft has identified itself: that when you turn a Windows feature - such as Remote Access - on or off, the computer may require a restart. So far, there doesn’t seem to be many people, if any, who have encountered this problem. If you do, let us know in the comments below.
More Work Needed?
Otherwise, some users say that Microsoft still has more work to do.
“Yeah, fix your apps!” “Marcus” wrote. “Photos and Mail STILL crash every time during loading after the updates. Thankfully the real apps, aka desktop apps, don't have issues running.”
Microsoft is addressing some of those requests, quietly rolling out updates to its core SkyDrive, Mail, Calendar, People and Messaging apps, as well as Photos, Maps, Bing, Finance and News. Microsoft recommends that Windows 8 users keep an eye on the Store tile, which will indicatewhen updates are available. users can then open it and click the updates link in the top right corner to see the list and install the desired updates.
Notable changes will include, according to Microsoft, a conversation view of your inbox in Mail, plus complete IMAP account support; indoor venue maps in Maps, plus integration with its Travel app; and a SmartDJ feature for its Music app.