So far in Vista's long, rocky gestation, only the insiders--the tech elite--have had the opportunity to actually install the software and put it through its paces.
That all changed last night, when Microsoft said it had made a beta version of Vista publicly available for download. Now, the greater audience of tech enthusiasts and other brave souls can run Vista, assuming they can scrape together the requisite hardware.
What will Microsoft learn? Plenty. For instance, the number of people willing to take the beta plunge could be a rough indication of the kind of reception Vista is willing to receive when it finally does ship early next year.
More important, the broader beta program will give Microsoft and industry watchers the first concrete indication of whether Vista is close to completion. Even though by most accounts the latest test version seems fairly stable, there are sure to be plenty of new glitches discovered as millions of new testers pound away. After all, that's what such "customer preview programs" are all about.
However, just how much Microsoft will be able to fix and still stay on schedule for shipment is a bigger question. Sure, the odd driver bug or installation hiccup will get ironed out. Anything more serious could derail the planned November completion date. No coincidence then that the company continues to jettison some of Vista's planned features that aren't yet up to snuff.
Blog community response:
"Feeling fearless? Have too much hardware and don't feel like you're using it all? Give the Vista Beta 2 a shot!"
"Microsoft today launched Windows Vista Beta 2 for public download. I have been using this build for a while now and its pretty stable, though I recommend a clean install. Check out the speech recognition stuff in vista it's pretty cool."
"Developers have already been spending some quality time with the build, and it looks like things are finally coming together for Microsoft. But there are still plenty of compatibility and interface problems. Some of the "change for change's sake" has a few reviewers riled up, and Vista is really not recommended for consistent exposure right now. But hey, it's free."