Today Microsoft releases its second Community
Technology Preview of Windows Vista
to beta testers and subscribers to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet.
While testing the new build over the past few days, we've noted a number of incremental
changes that have appeared since the September PDC (
Professional Developers' Conference
) CTP, as well as a few truly significant ones.
The new CTP release, known as build 5231, provides a first glimpse of Windows Media
Player 11 and additions to the Windows Security Center, including hooks for an integrated
anti-spyware tool. Improvements to the Vista shell are continuing, diagnostic capabilities
are growing, and Internet Explorer 7 is shaping up. There are a few skeletal new
applications that don't yet have much substantive functionality: a simple contact
manager, a calendar applet, and a digital photo manager called Microsoft Digital
Gallery. Microsoft also tells us that build 5231 implements a variety of capabilities
at the API (application programming interface) level, meaning their benefit won't
become apparent to most users until applications or the shell exploit those new capabilities.
One example is Restart Manager. Acknowledging that rebooting after the installation
of security hotfixes and other patches is a hassle, Microsoft designed the Restart
Manager API to let applications receive notification that the system needs to be
rebooted, so they can save their current state and then recover it upon restart.
A system whose running applications all exploit the Restart Manager API should be
able to reboot and return to the state it was in just before rebooting, saving users
the trouble of restarting applications and reloading documents (to say nothing of
recovering documents that hadn't been saved). Microsoft expects this capability to
be particularly welcome in enterprise environments, where system administrators could
force workstations to apply a hotfix at, say, 2 a.m., without disrupting users who
left applications running overnight. One caveat: applications that don't implement
Restart Manager would still be shut down by force, so this scenario requires extensive
support from third-party developers to be maximally effective.
Microsoft has also changed the boot manager in build 5231, providing a new layer
of abstraction that supports both traditional BIOS ROMs (Basic Input/Output System
ROMs) and the NVRAM/EFI (non-volatile RAM / Extensible Firmware Interface) boot configuration
mechanism used, for example, by systems with 64-bit Intel Itanium processors. The
new boot manager still supports multi-booting scenarios, but rather than changing
boot menu options by editing BOOT.INI as in current versions of Windows, you'll use
a command-line utility called BCDEDIT.EXE.
Vista now includes a series of enhanced diagnostics as well, including memory, disk,
and network diagnostics. These diagnostics are accessible to IT administrators via
Group Policy and the new Windows event manager interface.
Since build 5231 is a relatively early beta, the user interface and features we saw
remain subject to change. Anecdotally, stability seems somewhat better than in the
prior CTP build, but application and Explorer crashes are still frequent (albeit
rarely catastrophic), and compatibility is far from perfect. All in all, it's about
what we'd expect at this stage in the development process.
The date for Vista beta 2?which will have the great majority of features implemented
and a closer-to-final UI, and will be available to a much larger audience than current
releases?remains unannounced. Microsoft is still aiming to ship Vista in the latter
half of 2006.
One challenge that Vista will face is that many of its components and visible new
features now look as if they'll also be available on Windows XP. Windows Media Player
11 and Internet Explorer 7 will certainly be available, as will the WPF (Windows
Presentation Foundation, formerly known as "Avalon") graphics engine and the WCF
(Windows Communication Foundation, formerly "Indigo") distributed-services APIs for
developers. As a result, it increasingly appears that Vista's differentiating features,
aside from the sleek new shell interface, will be the ones that are less visible
to typical users: hardened security, better diagnostics, and improved manageability
in enterprise environments. Although those benefits may be largely invisible, they
do address problems important to PC users and administrators today, so we expect
they'll still be welcome.
Come with us as we browse through some of
what's new in this build of Windows Vista
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