We've successfully installed the new firmware for iPhone 2.1 and we can allready report that the problem of long backups appears to be completely fixed. With 60+ apps on a test phone, the entire backup process took just 20 seconds.
Apple has published a list of the bug fixes and new features here. The list does not appear to be comprehensive and does not include any mention of background processes.
Apps also seem to load much faster (possibly 5x) from the AppStore. Most apps now load in under a minute on 3g.