Microsoft on Wednesday released the fourth preview of Windows Vista, and called the operating system now "feature complete."
Long expected, the fourth Community Technology Preview (CTP) version of Vista was rolled out to the same group of testers who have been working with the OS since September 2005. Then, Microsoft said it would unveil monthly previews, but reneged on that promise in November when it ran into difficulties meeting schedule.
Unlike the December CTP, which highlighted the OS's consumer features, this preview focuses on Vista's business prowess, Microsoft officials said during a telephone conference call with journalists.
Among the tools and features stressed Wednesday were enterprise deployment tools to roll out the Vista client, the Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) for adding components to a disk image, and an updated migration tool for moving settings from older editions of the Microsoft OS.
Microsoft Management Console has also been updated, said the Redmond, Wash.-based developer, and improvements made to group policies. The latter include new policies for controlling removable storage devices, such as flash drives, to block their use, for instance, on some machines, or allow read-only from a device on other PCs.
The feature-complete CTP -- the first to have everything in place -- was touted by Microsoft as ready to deploy and test on a "limited number of machines in a nonproduction environment." Earlier builds of Vista came with sterner warnings.
Not everything in the CTP was completely geared to corporate users; this version is the first to activate Windows Sidebar and Gadgets, a combination meant to complete with Apple's Mac OS X Widgets and the similar applets offered by Yahoo Widget Engine.
Microsoft's bundled a small number of Gadgets -- an RSS viewer, a trash bin, a clock -- with the CTP, and urged developers to start thinking about what kind of Gadgets they could provide to users.
Another Vista feature, dubbed "Welcome Center," took a bow in the CTP. This "first boot" screen displays setup tasks -- such as adding accounts, transferring files and settings -- and allows OEMs to post offers to end users.
The Welcome Center has been under fire of late, as unnamed OEMs have filed complaints with the U.S. Justice Department and voiced "concerns" to the European Union's antitrust division about the opening screens.
Although Windows chief Jim Allchin has said he was ready to push back Vista's release date if the OS wasn't up to snuff, it seems Vista is on track. A consumer-oriented preview will still be released next quarter, and the final remains scheduled for the second half of the year.
Recently, a posting to a Microsoft Web site hinted at six core versions of Vista, with two more targeting the European Union's antitrust ruling that requires editions sans Windows Media Player. Microsoft wouldn't address the number of editions, or SKUs, of Vista, but did say it would provide more information very soon.
The Vista CTP is available immediately to the half million or so testers, MSDN members, and TechNet subscribers.