If you install the beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) expecting to see visible changes to your version of Vista, you'll be sorely disappointed. At least in this initial beta, all the changes are under the hood, and even they are far from earth-shaking.
Microsoft says that it has fixed compatibility problems with the third-party Spy Sweeper and ZoneAlarm security applications, enhanced hardware support for Direct X, improved Wi-Fi connections after a system resumes from sleep, improved Windows Search, added support for the newest Bluetooth specification (2.1) and rolled up all previous Vista updates.
In addition, Microsoft says that the RSS gadget now uses fewer resources, that it has added support for burning Blu-ray discs, and that a new feature called Windows Connect Now (WCN) makes it simpler to configure Wi-Fi networks.
But in reality, what's really new in SP2 is somewhat murky. For example, support for Bluetooth 2.1 and WCN have been available since July, via what Microsoft calls the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless. That feature pack was available only to system manufacturers, not users, so perhaps Microsoft means that with SP2 these wireless features are now directly available to consumers for the first time. But anyone who has a Vista PC purchased from a system manufacturer that includes the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless already has WCN and support for Bluetooth 2.1.
Installation a snap -- with a few caveats
You have several choices for installing Vista SP2, including via Windows Update, as a stand-alone installer or by downloading an .iso image file, which you can then burn to a DVD and install from the DVD.
Initially, the beta was available only on MSDN and TechNet before public release, and at that point was available only as an .iso image. I downloaded the image, but had troubles with installation. The first .iso image burner I used, the free ImgBurn application, said it could not handle that particular .iso image. I had used this software to install .iso images before during the original Vista installation cycle, so this was odd.
Next, I tried Nero 7 to burn an image. It had trouble as well -- when the burning was complete, the only file on my DVD was an .ini file and nothing else, so I couldn't install the beta. I never found out the source of the problem. Given that the .iso file is now in public beta and no outcry has been heard, the problem, if any, has most likely been fixed.