The software maker releases an update that adds an improved version of Internet Explorer 7 and other features.
Monday's release is intended to be the start of a wave of monthly updates to the Community Technology Preview (CTP), which Microsoft uses to gather feedback more quickly than would be possible from using only a traditional beta program. The update includes a number of new features, including improved printing from within Internet Explorer 7, as well as a new Mobility Center, that groups together a host of laptop options, including new power management settings.
"There are a lot of changes," Mike Burk, a Microsoft product manager for Windows Vista, said. "What we are trying to do is make sure that we are steadily progressing."
Monday's release also includes, for the first time:
• a "Network Center," that acts as a central spot for managing network connections, replacing the "My Network Places" and "Network Neighborhood" from Windows XP
• tools for authoring and digitally signing documents in the new XML Paper Specification (XPS) format, code-named Metro
• an early version of Windows Media Player 11
• new network and PC diagnostic tools that can, for example, detect when a disk is likely to fail, warn users and prompt them with ways to back up their data.
"One of things we're trying to do is make sure that PCs are able to fix themselves in a way that they haven't been able to in the past," Burk said.
Microsoft cautioned that "many of the features included in the October CTP are still being developed and do not yet represent their final functionality or design."
In particular, the company called out several features that "will undergo significant changes before the final version of Windows Vista ships," including a new migration wizard, the Power Management Center, Windows AntiSpyware, Windows Calendar and Windows Media Player 11.
Microsoft has used CTPs in the past to gather feedback, but Vista marks the first time the company has done so with its operating system. In a traditional beta program, the company often releases only one or two test versions before hitting the near-final-release candidate stage. With a CTP, testers get their hands on more frequent updates, allowing the opportunity for more feedback.
The move has helped the company be more timely and relevant, Burk said, noting that in the past it was hard to get feedback early enough to make changes in time for a product's release.
"This process has kind of helped us close that gap," Burk said.
The company offered up the first CTP version at last month's Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles. The Beta 1 release was issued in July.
As with those earlier test versions, Microsoft is cautioning that Monday's release is aimed at developers and technology professionals. The company said that consumers interested in giving Vista a test drive should wait for Beta 2.
Microsoft has not given an exact date for Beta 2, but has promised a final version of the OS will ship in the second half of next year, in time to be included in PCs that sell during the 2006 holiday shopping season.
Burk did not say when the more full-featured second beta would come, but did say the company is planning on an updated CTP version for next month.
The latest test version is being made available to about half a million people, including a pool of technical testers as well as members of Microsoft's MSDN and TechNet developer programs.