Vista Service Pack 1 has been officially released since March and is currently roaming the wilds of computers across the globe and Dell is currently shipping it on Vista systems worldwide (for systems using English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish languages with additional languages expected to ship as they become available in the future) but for users who are already running Vista but have yet to install this update the question is: why should I install it?

This is especially true for small business owners, as the computer is most likely the lifeline between you and your business. Downtime for the computer means that customers are unable to place orders, inventory and receipts can’t be tracked and most importantly money is being lost. Is Service Pack 1 for Vista worth the risk of making broad changes to your computer’s operating system?

The answer, from people such as Paul Thurrott seems to be a resounding yes.

So what exactly is in Vista Service Pack 1? The list is far too long to cover here, but let me point out some items that should be of interest to the small business owner :

Reliability – In addition to the hotfixes released since Vista was launched, SP1 contains a number of new changes that should result in a much more stable platform. Laptop users in particular should see dramatic improvements to both the speed and stability of functions such as resume from standby.

Performance – The speed at which you copy files, whether it is from one system to another or just on a single system should see a significant boost. Superfetch has been improved, and users who have to work with large image files will notice that they display much faster than before.

Power Management – Changes made that seem to specifically target laptops users, such as no longer having the hard disks spin all of the time and changes to how video chipsets handle sleep mode should equate to longer battery life for most laptop users.

Compatibility – Not specific to SP1, but worth noting: in the time since Vista was released, many companies have been working hard to bring their products in line with the new OS. The list of compatible software applications and driver support for peripherals such as printers has grown tremendously. A great source for finding out if the applications that you need to run on Vista can be found here, courtesy of Microsoft.

(A great snapshot of some of the specific improvements can be found in this article on InformIT.com)

Service Pack 1 for Vista is a great first step towards bringing the oft-maligned OS back into the conversation with its improvements. This is not the monster package of changes that we saw in Windows XP when service pack 2 was released, but is instead a fairly extensive set of subtle changes to Vista that bring a smoother, more consistent feel to the user experience. You may not pick up on the differences in the first 5 minutes of use, but you will appreciate the changes after the first week or month as you notice that Vista spends less time getting in the way of what you want to do. When an operating system works best, you should forget that it is even there.

The easiest way to install SP1 is to turn on Automatic Updates but for those of you that would prefer to download SP1 separately, here is a link.

While Dell provides support for the operating system as it originally shipped with your machine, Microsoft is providing installation and compatibility support for Service Pack 1 until March 18 2009, and this page should provide you with a way to receive it.

We’ve also compiled a list of common errors that people have encountered through installing SP1 for Vista and information on how to resolve them.