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02:25 PM
Scot Finnie
Scot Finnie

Windows Vista Beta 1: A Guided Tour

Scot Finnie takes a long, detailed, and expert look at the features, foibles, and functionality of Microsoft's upcoming OS.

Windows Longhorn has been so long in the public eye that many of us are finding it a little difficult to get our minds around the new "official" name: Windows Vista. Let's face it — this is not an awe-inspiring name. It's the kind of name that is selected because there's nothing seriously wrong with it, not because anyone is truly excited about it. Of course, the name "Vista" brings with it an allusion to vision, as in viewing beautiful scenery through a window. Microsoft is trying to convey the notion that this version of Windows lets you view your data the way you want to. What remains to be seen is whether Vista's new features and capabilities work together to deliver on that promise.

In This Story

Moving And Shaking Names

Search And Virtual Folders

Breadcrumb Navigation

Evolutionary Start Menu

User Account Protection

IE7: Tabs And Toolbars

IE7: RSS, Security, More

Installation, Hardware, Networking

Security, Sys Reqs, Bottom Line

Beta 1 of any new version of Windows is always the toughest build to write intelligently about. When you're dealing with pre-beta builds, no one really knows the answers to questions like, "How is this supposed to work?" It's a guessing game you figure out through hours of working with the code.

The difference with Beta 1 is that a few people at Microsoft know how about half of it is supposed to work. Of course, only about 25 percent is actually working that way, and you don't know which features are heading in the right direction and which ones will be chewed up and spit out. Not to mention the fact that roughly 50 percent of the functionality just isn't there at all, and again, no one is sure what features will occupy those spaces when all is said and done.

The secret to understanding Beta 1 of any new version of Windows is asking the natives — namely, your friends at Microsoft. So I did that. But the usual caveat applies: Hey, this code ain't even close to being done, and all this could change. Ya got me?

Windows Vista Beta 1's new Aero Glass effect desktop, showing the Computer folder (previously called My Computer). (click to enlarge image)

Overall, Beta 1 is being billed by Microsoft as a plumbing/IT-oriented release, without many of the final end-user features. This story covers new aspects of Windows Vista Beta 1 that are usable, at least partly. But you should know there are several other features described by Microsoft that I haven't found a way to get at. For example, there's a new Startup Repair Tool that sounds like it might be a reworking of the Recovery Console. And apparently, Microsoft is adding diagnostic tools to aid recovery in error situations.

There are also anti-malware features baked into Windows Vista that are based on Microsoft AntiSpyware, as well as other protective mechanisms, that you can't see in Beta 1. For example, during Windows upgrade installations, the Windows setup routine will scan the computer for malware before initiating the installation. But since you can't perform a Windows upgrade installation, there's no way to see the new malware scan. Windows Firewall will finally protect against both outbound and inbound threats in Vista, but no user interface for that protection has been added in Beta 1.

Other invisible-to-Beta 1 improvements include reliability claims, such as detection and warning in advance of pending failures. Microsoft hopes to be able to warn users of a pending hard drive crash about 24 hours in advance to give people a chance to back up their data. The software giant also expects to reduce negative events like application restarts, hangs, crashes, and system reboots; and improve that perennial favorite, performance when starting up, waking from hibernation, and responding to user actions. All these things, and more, will have to wait for examinations of later prerelease versions of Windows Vista.

It should go without saying that, in Beta 1, neither performance nor stability improvements are at all evident. In particular, Vista Beta 1 is less reliable than Windows XP. The areas that I've experienced the most difficulty with are the Windows Explorer and using the Network tool to access other computers on a peer network. Microsoft is still in the early phases of development, though, and this is par for the course with a Beta 1 offering. I'm withholding my assessment of performance and reliability improvements until the late prerelease and shipping versions of the Windows Vista code. So should you.

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