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Dueling Service Packs: XP vs. Vista

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If you’re waiting for the first service pack before deploying Windows Vista, don’t expect it to show improved performance – especially compared to its predecessor, Windows XP.

That’s according to Devil Mountain Software, a small, four-year-old developer in south Florida. Last week, the firm announced the results of recent tests it performed on near final versions of Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) and XP SP3. Both service packs are currently in early “release candidate,” or RC, stage – Microsoft’s last testing step before commercial release.

Tests run using Devil Mountain’s DMS Clarity Studio, the firm’s testing suite, found that XP SP3 performed twice as fast as Vista SP1 running on the same dual-core Dell laptop.

“This doesn’t bode well for Microsoft in our opinion,” Craig Barth, CTO at Devil Mountain, told “Microsoft’s biggest challenge with Vista is how to unseat XP,” he added.

In fact, over the years, Microsoft executives have routinely admitted that the major competition for any new version of a dominant product like Windows is the previous version, and Vista is no exception.

To be fair, Barth said that the Clarity Studio benchmark tests did not examine whether SP1 performed better than the released version of Vista in the area of file copying, something users have loudly complained about. Additionally, the initial tests ran Vista with 1 GB of RAM, half of what many observers feel should be the minimum to run Vista.

Indeed, Barth says, when running the tests with 2 GB of memory, Vista SP1 performed a “whopping” four percent faster than it did with only 1 GB. That’s not much improvement, to be sure, especially compared to XP SP3. Barth also said that SP3 performs 10 percent better than XP SP2.

In recent months, Microsoft has had to fend off various negative stories regarding Vista’s performance as well as slow uptake of the new operating system by corporate customers.

Just last week, a survey released by King Research found that 90 percent of IT shops it polled have concerns about migrating to Vista, and only 13 percent have firm plans to deploy Vista at this point.

That comes in fairly stark contrast to a Forrester report released a week earlier that found that nearly 50 percent of PC decision makers have concrete plans to deploy Vista at this point.

In point of fact, Devil Mountain just came out of “stealth mode” with a free user system testing service it has dubbed xpnet.

“The (xpnet) is a global, community-based effort to gather real-world metrics data from Windows-based systems and to analyze that data in order to extract common threads of knowledge and information. By compiling a comprehensive database of system and application metrics (the exo.repository), xpnet researchers hope to identify critical trends and to provide valuable feedback (via the to the global IT community,” according to a statement on the company’s site.

Barth admits the launch of xpnet was one reason behind releasing the service pack test results, calling it “the quickest way to generate interest” in xpnet.

Microsoft, as usual, downplayed the potential impact that XP SP3 might have on sales of Vista.

“We appreciate the excitement to evaluate Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3 as soon as possible,” a Microsoft spokesperson told in an e-mailed statement. “However, these service packs are still in the development phase and will undergo several changes before being released to our customers in the first quarter of 2008 and first half of 2008, respectively.”

Whether or not SP1’s performance improves by the time it’s released next quarter, most observers see no other option but widespread Vista adoption over time. XP, after all, is six years old, and the next version of Windows – currently codenamed Windows 7 – is still two or more years away. Meanwhile, uptake of Linux as a desktop operating system is still miniscule.

One long-standing Microsoft observer calls excitement over Devil Mountain’s benchmarks “premature,” given that neither service pack is at full release stage yet.

“At this point in a service pack[‘s development cycle], I’m interested in whether it’s stabile and reliable,” Michael Cherry, lead analyst for operating systems at researcher Directions on Microsoft, told

“When they ship the service pack, that’s the time to do the benchmarks on it – anything before that is premature,” he added.

This article was first published on

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