Microsoft has decided that they want to limit the Vista SP1 Beta download to a select group of testers while they work out some of the kinks. I’m sure as the development cycle progresses they will make a pre-release download freely available to the public, but there is a hack floating around now that will let you “join” in the Beta program. Once you trick your computer into thinking it is a willing participant you will be able to download Vista SP1 Beta via Windows Update.
So what do you have to do? I’ll direct you over to Ghacks for the nice step-by-step rundown, but I did take the liberty of installing this on one of my test machines. The process was actually quite tedious: install an update, restart, install an update, restart, install an update, restart, and then install Vista SP1! Hey, I said you can do it through Windows Update, but I never said it was easy.
Here are some screenshots from my journey (click to enlarge):
You will not want to install this on a Vista machine that you use all of the time, and there’s a good reason for that. Some people that I know have said that it transforms their legal copy of Windows into time-expiring “trial” version. They were able to do a system restore to get their computer back to the state before installing Vista SP1, but it really isn’t worth taking the chance. GHacks does include instructions on how to get rid of the evaluation watermark that is placed on the desktop though.
As far as Vista SP1 improvements go I wouldn’t say that there is anything worth jumping through the hoops at this point. Microsoft has already released several performance and compatibility updates that give your Vista machine a much need speed boost, and I didn’t notice that much of a difference on my machine which already had those updates installed.