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Testers lock horns with Vista beta

Microsoft is giving thousands of testers a look at a trial version of the next incarnation of Windows. Images: Vista views

Microsoft has passed a major milestone with the release of its first full test version of Windows Vista, the next generation of its flagship operating system.

As earlier reported, Microsoft is making available a beta version of Windows Vista to some testers. The software, released Wednesday, is being offered now to about 10,000 testers and will be available shortly to about 500,000 people who are members of Microsoft's MSDN developer program or its Technet program for corporate technology workers.

Microsoft said last week that it would have a test version available by Aug. 3. At the same time, the company announced the Windows Vista name for the operating system, which had been known by its Longhorn code name. General availability of Vista is scheduled for next year.

Though Microsoft has included a more complete version than past developer preview releases, the company stressed that Beta 1 is not aimed at the masses.

"Beta 1 is not what I would call deeply interesting, unless you are a real bithead," Windows chief Jim Allchin said in an interview. "This beta isn't really for even tech enthusiasts. This beta is to test out some of the capabilities that we've got, if you will, in the plumbing."


To win consumers over,
Microsoft needs to pay
close attention to their
needs and habits.

The product boasts some of the key features expected to debut with Windows Vista, including new searching and organizing abilities, a redesigned start menu and an update to the Internet Explorer browser. However, other features, such as improved management capabilities for laptops and better photo and video handling, are not expected until later test releases.

The test version also contains evidence of work Microsoft has been doing to make it easier to turn off a Windows PC without fully shutting down, as well as other new abilities, such as connecting to a network-connected projector for presentations or making changes to Windows settings without permanently logging in as an administrator.

Many of the other changes are even deeper under-the-hood shifts designed to make it easier for businesses to manage and deploy large numbers of PCs. Beta 1 includes a "task scheduler" that can be set to kick in when a particular condition arises, (when, for example, disk space gets low and MP3 files need to be deleted).

Hafta have Vista, baby?


How can I get the beta version of Windows Vista or Internet Explorer 7?
The beta versions are being made available now to about 10,000 already-selected testers. Microsoft plans to offer them shortly to about 500,000 people who are part of its MSDN developer program or Technet program for corporate tech workers.

What features are part of this release?
Though many consumer features have yet to appear in the early Windows Vista builds, Beta 1 does include a redesigned start menu; new animated effects when opening and closing windows; an early version of the Internet Explorer 7 browser; a synchronization manager; new desktop searching and organizing features, such as virtual folders; and security features such as full-volume encryption.

What features are yet to come, but still part of Windows Vista?
Microsoft has not included the updates to the Media Center and Tablet PC features, nor has it included promised new ways of handling music and videos. The company also plans a mobility center that will be home to a host of new laptop-related features.

What Longhorn features are on the cutting room floor?
The big feature that had been talked about initially for Longhorn was WinFS, an update to the Windows file system that would have changed the way files are stored and organized on a hard drive. Microsoft says it plans to have WinFS in test form next year when Windows Vista ships.

When is the next beta coming?
Microsoft will offer an update to Beta 1 at its Professional Developer Conference in September. The company has not yet set a date for Beta 2, the next major milestone and the version in which many Windows Vista features will first appear.

When will Vista ship?
Microsoft has said it will ship Windows Vista in time for the operating system to show up on PCs that sell during next year's holiday shopping season.

For more answers about Windows Vista, click here.

--Ina Fried

And though the interface is not necessarily indicative of what the final Windows Vista desktop will look like, Beta 1 does contain some of the "glass" windows and transitions that will be part of the operating system's new look and feel.

Windows Vista is scheduled to ship in its final form in time to be on PCs that sell during next year's holiday shopping season. The company has not set a time frame for the second beta version, but a more modest update to Beta 1 is planned for Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference in September. That's likely to be the first in a number of interim updates that Microsoft releases in between its major Beta versions.

"We plan to make interim builds more broadly available than we have previously," Sullivan said.

Along with the test version of the new Windows, Microsoft is also making available to the same group of testers a beta version of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP. The test version includes support for tabbed browsing and the ability to view Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds.

Microsoft lead product manager Greg Sullivan said Microsoft is not planning for a downloadable version of IE 7 to be made publicly available until Beta 2.

"We'll really be ready to do broader end user testing around Beta 2," Sullivan said. The company has not said when that version will arrive.

The IE 7 beta for Windows XP also features a new antiphishing feature designed to protect users from known scams and potentially malicious sites. The phishing protections will also be part of the final Vista browser, but they're not part of Beta 1 of Windows Vista.

For sites Microsoft knows to be reported phishing sites, IE will display a warning screen rather than going directly to the site. A message will appear that says the site is recognized as a phishing-scam site and that recommends users "not continue to this Web site." A dialog box suggests users close the Web page but also lets them continue on if they choose.

Sites that are not known to be scam sites but that appear questionable are labeled as "suspicious," with a yellow box in the upper right hand corner, near the Web address.


Microsoft's Windows
chief talks about
challenges ahead
with the new OS.

Deep inside the operating system are two key changes to the way Windows works. One, a new Web services architecture code-named Indigo, has been renamed the Windows Communication Foundation. The company has also renamed the Avalon graphics engine, which is now known as the Windows Presentation Foundation. Both are part of Beta 1 of Windows Vista, and Microsoft also plans to make both available separately as add-ons to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft is also testing an early beta of Longhorn Server, the next version of its server operating system, which is not expected to arrive in final form until 2007.