Executive Summary:

SP2 for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista offers a collection of hotfixes and minor updates, yet there's much to like, including Windows Search 4.0, Bluetooth 2.1 support, Blu-Ray data disk writing, exFAT file system support, power management improvements, and more.

By the time you read this, Microsoft will have released SP2 for both Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista. And yes, the same service-pack executables service both systems, thanks to Microsoft's decision to lock development of its desktop and server OSs to each other.

Vista received a major SP1 release a year ago, but Server 2008 shipped with the SP1 bits preinstalled. So SP2 is, in fact, the first service pack for Server 2008. It's also a more traditional service pack that aggregates previously shipped updates, adding just a few minor functional changes. Here's what you need to know about Server 2008 SP2 and Vista SP2.

What SP2 Isn't
Although SP2 services both Vista and Server 2008, it doesn't update the initial shipping version of Server 2008 to Server 2008 R2. That release will ship in the second half of 2009, adding such features as Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V 2.0 with Live Migration, Windows PowerShell 2.0, Server Core with ASP .NET (and .NET Framework) and PowerShell support, and more. (To learn more about R2, see “What You Need to Know About Windows Server 2008 R2.”)

SP2 Updates for Server 2008 and Vista
SP2 includes many minor improvements that apply to both Server 2008 and to Vista. These include the following:

Windows Search 4.0.
Available now as a separate update for Vista, Windows Search 4.0 offers better performance, enhanced Group Policy support, and the ability to index encrypted files.

Bluetooth 2.1 support. Also available now as a separate update called the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless, this update supports the latest version of the Bluetooth wireless standard.

Blu-Ray data disk writing. With SP2, you can natively write to Blu-Ray data disks from the Vista shell. (This functionality doesn't include creating Blu-Ray movies.)

exFAT file-system support improvements. Microsoft developed the Extended FAT, or exFAT, file system as a more modern file system for flash devices such as USB storage. (That is, it overcomes the 4GB file size limit from FAT/FAT32 and can handle more than 1000 files in a single folder.) Microsoft added exFAT support to Vista with SP1, but with SP2 that support is extended to include UTC timestamps, facilitating file synchronization across time zones.

Wi-Fi improvements. SP2 utilizes Windows Connect Now technologies to simplify Wi-Fi configurations (this functionality is also available now as part of the Windows Vista Feature Pack for Wireless). Wi-Fi connection performance is also improved when resuming from Sleep mode.

VIA 64-bit support. With SP2, Server 2008 and Vista now support 64-bit VIA Technologies microprocessors.

Power-management improvements. The default power-management policies are approximately 10 percent more efficient than before, according to Microsoft.

Service Pack Clean-Up Tool
SP2 comes with the Service Pack Clean-up tool (compcln.exe), which permanently deletes older versions of the RTM– and SP1–based files that SP2 replaces. This saves disk space and also can reduce the size of future install images.

Server 2008 SP2 Updates Only
Some SP2 changes are Server 2008–specific. For example, while the original shipping version of Server 2008 included a prerelease version of Hyper-V, SP2 includes the final shipping version of Hyper-V 1.0.

Hyper-V brings with it one free guest OS install with Server 2008 Standard Edition, four free licenses with Server 2008 Enterprise Edition, and an unlimited number of free licenses with Server 2008 Datacenter Edition. SP2 also cleans up some Terminal Server license keys issues.

Recommendations

SP2 for Server 2008 and Vista is a collection of previously released hotfixes and other updates, packaged together for simpler deployment. Microsoft doesn't expect any major hardware or software compatibility issues.

For deployment purposes, Microsoft will provide versions of both OSs that are integrated with SP2, and for the first time since the release of Vista, IT pros can easily slipstream the update themselves. I've been testing various prerelease versions of SP2 since last year and have experienced no problems whatsoever. Obviously, you'll want to do your own testing, but it appears that most environments will experience few, if any, issues with this update.