We observe marked increases in the time-averaged intensity, peak intensity, efficiency and spectral purity of the VUV output from an Xe excimer barrier discharge lamp when using short-pulse (approximately 150 ns FWHM (full width half maximum)) excitation. Intensity increases with Xe pressure up to 600 Torr with a maximum output 2.6 times higher and an efficiency 3.2 times higher than the same lamp excited by conventional ac excitation (i.e. sinusoidal voltage waveform). The output occurs in regular short pulses (<300 ns FWHM) with a peak intensity more than six times the peak intensity typically obtained using ac. The spectral characteristics are similar to that observed using ac excitation except that the ratio of VUV to visible Xe* emission increases by a factor of three. The pulsed discharge appears diffuse (i.e. glow-like), even at the higher pressures at which the ac discharge is filamentary. It is concluded that the enhanced performance results largely from the ability for pulsed excitation to generate a discharge at near atmospheric pressures with a much lower electron density than that possible using ac.