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Vista Visuals: Windows Sidebar, Gadgets, Media Player 11, And More

Scot Finnie shows you the first feature-complete beta of Windows Vista and analyzes what's new, including Windows Mail, Windows Sidebar, and Media Player 11.

Along about now you may be growing a little weary of the many faces of Windows Vista. Microsoft has released a plethora of "CTPs," or betas, over the last several months. But this is not the time to become complacent. In fact, we're just getting to the good stuff.

Vista Visuals

•  Introduction

•  The Sidebar Rules

•  Lots Of New Programs

•  Pulling Back On Virtual Folders

•  Sinking Feeling About Security

•  Image Gallery

The February CTP (Community Technology Preview) of Windows Vista (build 5308) is the first build that is nearly feature-complete. It's also the first build that allows testers to install five of the six major flavors of Vista that will be offered when the OS ships: Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium, and Windows Vista Ultimate. (For more on the various versions of Vista, please see The Six Flavors Of Windows Vista.)

The research for this story was based on Windows Vista Ultimate. Microsoft has not released a features-comparison table that shows what's offered (or not offered) in the various Vista SKUs. It's going to take people like me a while to install all those flavors and figure out what's different. Moreover, even if we had the comparison data right now, there's every possibility that it could change in the final versions of Vista.

The Beta Question
What does "nearly feature complete" mean, and is this Beta 2 of Windows Vista? Microsoft claims that the February CTP, also known as the Enterprise CTP, has all the programs, applets, and primary functionalities in place that Microsoft currently intends to ship in at least one of the final versions of Vista. But that doesn't mean all the features and functionalities will look, act, or perform the way they do in this build. Very likely, aspects will be added or trimmed — hopefully, they will run better too.

(click image for larger view and image gallery)

The first feature-complete Windows Vista build is now available. In this screenshot, the new Start menu is on the left; the Sidebar, showing several of the first Gadgets available, is on the right.

As to the Beta 2 question — which may be more important to reporters and reviewers than to most users — Microsoft has elevated that to an existential conundrum. Is this Beta 2, or have all the CTP releases been Beta 2? I can tell you that, until about December of last year, Microsoft was intending to release a feature-complete build called Beta 2. And build 5308 is that release. On the other hand, Microsoft is calling this the Enterprise CTP, mostly because the enterprise features are ready, and it wants enterprises to test this version now to give it more time to bake in any strongly requested changes from business customers.

That's why Vista Beta 2, Release 2 (my nomenclature), is expected "sometime in the second quarter." That CTP will target the consumer-oriented features in Vista, and it will likely have a slew of changes and be a significant release. In a recent press briefing, Microsoft hinted that there will be CTP releases to follow the next one as well.

Is Microsoft on track to ship Vista this year? Yes, absolutely. Expect the code to freeze some time in August, and for Vista PCs to be in vogue on store shelves for most, if not all, of the holiday selling season.

Reprinted by permission of Scot Finnie. This was adapted from an article in the March 2006 issue of Scot's Newsletter.

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