By now you’ve installed the updates and patches released last Tuesday on Microsoft’s regularly-scheduled “Patch Tuesday.” Some of you with new computers might have also found Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 1, an unexpected addition to the list of optional updates. If you’re not in a hurry, you’ll still deal with it eventually – Office 2007 SP1 will be installed as an automatic update in the next few months.

The service pack arrived with very little fanfare; most industry types didn’t expect it until next year. Microsoft presumably released it early to make a tiny dent in its reputation for being slow to bring products to market or get updates out the door. Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is in its final round of testing and it looks as if it will be released on the timetable Microsoft has been predicting for some time now.

Office 2007 SP1 makes a frightening first impression – when I first added it to the list of updates to be installed, it predicted a download of more than 600Mb. Fortunately that was wrong – there are lots of variations of the service pack but most of you will download approximately 200Mb, which is what was displayed on my system when the download actually started. That’s still a huge download!

Service packs are big collections of bug fixes. Microsoft’s current philosophy is that service packs do not include new features or changes to the programs, so installing the Office 2007 service pack won’t change anything very noticeable. Microsoft says there are good reasons to download and install Service Pack 1. According to Microsoft:

  • There are roughly 2500 fixes in SP1. This an average size for a service pack, but many of the issues fixed are important.
  • Almost 20% of those fixes are direct result of customer requests.
  • Over 500 of those fixes focused on security.

This is diluted a bit because many of the fixes are for programs you don’t use. Remember, Microsoft Office is now a huge suite of programs including many that are typically only used in large corporations with backend servers to support them and IT staff to implement and support them. Most of my small business clients don’t use many of the programs getting important fixes in this service pack: Communicator 2007, Groove 2007, Infopath 2007, Project 2007, Visio 2007, and others. The fixes for our workhorses – Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook – are mostly bug fixes for very specific circumstances. The Office 2007 suite was very stable in its initial release, so it’s possible that you’ve never run into a problem addressed by the service pack.

To be honest, much of the service pack is devoted to making the Office programs work smoothly for Windows Server 2008, due for release next year. Windows Server 2008 will be making a very big splash indeed, arguably more important for Microsoft’s long-term plans than Windows Vista or Office. Even small businesses will be evaluating Server 2008 – it will be the foundation of the next version of Small Business Server.

Incremental improvements in a very large package. Sigh. Go ahead and install it when you have some free time.