On Wednesday, Microsoft as expected released the first beta release of Windows Vista client, formerly code-named Longhorn, an early test release of IE 7 for Windows XP, and an early technical preview of the complementary server.
Still, the beta that is being released this week contains numerous new end-user, performance, management and business features that will be of use to partners and their customers.
Vista Beta 1 also features an enhanced user interface with transparent windows, improved animation, a redesigned Start Menu with application search, Internet Explorer 7, and a Sync Manager that will simplify synchronization with mobile devices and stop an in-progress sync if necessary.
Microsoft also incorporated, for instance, a networked projection feature for mobile PCs that will allow business users to connect a laptop to a projector over a network to display a Micosoft PowerPoint presentation, for example, or to share a presentation with colleagues nearby.
For developers, Vista Beta 1 includes the first beta of Windows Presentation Foundation, formerly code-named Avalon, and Windows Communication Foundation, formerly code-named Indigo, two important graphics and Web service systems that are part of the WinFX programming model.
The beta code also will incorporate WS-Management protocols for Web service development.
IT administrators can use beta 1 to experiment with a number of new management features in Windows Vista and test the code hardening that Microsoft insists will vastly reduce security and vulnerability problems that have plagued Windows.
For instance, Windows Vista Beta 1 will offer a Windows Imaging format to simplify corporate deployment of Windows, a Windows Pre-Installation Environment to configure Windows offline before launching setup, Microsoft Management Console 3.0 and an application compatibility toolkit to uncover and resolve any application migration issues before deployment.
The Windows Imaging utility, for instance, provides a single file that has one of two full Vista installation images per company. Administrators no longer have to create separate images for different languages, thus eliminating the need for multinational corporations to create separate images for each subsidiary.
On the security side, Microsoft has implemented a more secure Internet Explorer 7 with RSS support and tabbed browsing and a user account protection feature that reduce user access to administrative functions. Vista Beta 1 also has anti-malware, advanced data protection and network access protection features that can be tested out.
Vista Beta 1 also offers improved diagnostics and auto-correction to reduce crashes and hangs, a new technology for reducing the number of reboots required, and an improved scheduler that launches tasks once a threshold is reached, such as usage of disk space.
Also included is a faster startup called Quick Startup and a Sleep State feature. The latter combines the speed of standby mode with the data protection features and low-power consumption of Hibernate, Microsoft said. Sleep state, for example, allows users to change or remove a battery with little risk to open applications and data, since memory is safely written to the hard disk.
One Microsoft Gold Certified Partner said the beta gives him a tool to showcase future features of Windows, but he added that he is mindful that customers will be looking at Vista and wondering if they should wait to deploy it until WinFS is released.
WinFS is planned for release beyond Vista, but it is not clear if it will be available shortly after Vista becomes available in 2006 or 2007, or in the following Windows upgrade, code-named Blackcomb.
"This beta gives us an ability to become familiar with the Vista desktop, verify device compatibility, and it's very important for organizations concerned with automated deployments and images," said Ken Winell, CTO of Vis.Align, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner in West Chester, Pa.
"For now, Vista will give an update for XP users and complements Office 12. But the elongated [product]cycle is certainly something we are considering. WinFS and Indigo are features that we think are significant enough from a computing base that our longer range outlook remains focused on."
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