Microsoft has gone ahead with the first large scale test release of its Windows Vista operating system. The release, restricted to a small number of industry professionals will be the first milestone for the much delayed OS which officially received its name only last week.
This version of Vista, formerly known as Longhorn, is also referred to as Beta 1 and was delivered to about 10,000 professionals who, over the next few months, will try to spot weaknesses in the OS and will offer MS their feedback.
Beta 1 is not fully featured and instead focuses on some key points which Microsoft wants to stress test, including security, networking and practical aspects. The new OS will take a page out of Apple's MAC OS X book by restricting users to the bare necessities in order to carry out their work. The test version of Vista shipped with the much awaited Intenet Explorer 7, expected to be Microsoft's reply to the latest FireFox craze. Windows Vista is expected to replace Windows XP in late 2006. A full list of features of Beta 1 is available below:
Windows Vista beta 1 focuses on greatly improving the Windows' fundamentals - security, deployment, manageability and performance - so developers, IT professionals and end users can have more confidence in their PCs. Enhancements have been made in the following areas:
• Security. Windows Vista will deliver many new or improved security features that provide a usable, consistent and manageable experience in corporate, mobile and roaming environments, as well as in the home. Some examples of new security features in Windows Vista beta 1 include these:
• User Account Protection features enable administrators to deploy PCs set up to give end users only the privileges they need to perform their tasks. This bridges the gap between user and administrative privileges by running applications with limited permissions.
• Windows Service Hardening monitors critical Windows services for abnormal activity in the file system, registry and network that could be used to allow malware to persist on a machine or propagate to other machines.
• Anti-malware features detect and remove worms, viruses and other types of malicious software from the computer during an upgrade.
• Advanced data protection technologies reduce the risk that data on laptops or on other computers will be viewed by unauthorized users, even if the computer is lost or stolen. Windows Vista supports full-volume encryption to help prevent disk access to files by other operating systems. It also stores encryption keys in a Trusted Platform Model (TPM) v1.2 chip. The entire system partition is encrypted in both the hibernation file and the user data.
• Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 in Windows Vista Beta 1 includes many features to help protect against malicious Web sites and malware. To help protect against phishing and spoofing attacks, Internet Explorer also does the following:
• Highlights the address bar when users visit a secure sockets layer-protected site and lets users easily check the validity of a site's security certificate
• Allows users to clear all cached data with a single click
• Network Access Protection. Viruses and worms can attack a protected internal network through mobile computers that do not have the latest updates, security configuration settings or virus signatures downloaded. Mobile users may connect to unprotected networks at hotels, airports or coffee shops, where their computers can become infected by malware or a virus. Windows Vista has Network Access Protection to help prevent security-compromised computers from connecting to a user's internal network until security criteria are met.
• Firewall. Windows Vista provides outgoing as well as incoming filtering, which can be centrally managed via Group Policy. This lets administrators control which applications are allowed to communicate or are blocked from communicating on the network. Controlling network access is one of the most important ways to mitigate security risks.
• Deployment. Windows Vista will help make desktop deployment dramatically faster and easier. Deployment features included in Windows Vista Beta 1 include the following:
• The Windows Imaging (WIM) format provides a single file that contains one or more complete Windows Vista installation images. To conserve space, Windows Vista compresses the file and stores only a single copy of files that more than one image share. As a result, Windows Vista images help eliminate redundancy, decrease file size, and reduce installation or migration time. Image-based setup also is less error-prone than a scripted installation process.
• Windows Pre-installation Environment (PE) enables administrators to configure Windows offline as well as diagnose and troubleshoot hardware problems before launching the setup process.
• The Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) helps administrators quickly identify, analyze and resolve any issues with non-standard applications being migrated to Windows Vista.
• Manageability. Windows Vista will help reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) of PCs through simplified management, increased automation of tasks and improved diagnostics. Improvements in Windows Vista beta 1 include these:
• Better diagnostics implementation, including auto-diagnosis and auto-correction of common error conditions, fixes for known crashes and "hangs," and new technology to minimize reboots when installing software, are included.
• An improved Task Scheduler schedules tasks to launch when a specific event occurs, such as when disk space becomes insufficient.
• Web Services for Management (WS-Management) makes it easier to run scripts remotely and to perform other management tasks. Communication can be both encrypted and authenticated, helping limit security risks.
• Microsoft Management Console 3.0 (MMC 3.0) provides a common framework for management tools, making them easier to find and use. MMC 3.0 supports richer, more functional graphical user interfaces for management and allows administrators to run multiple tasks in parallel, keeping administrative tools responsive even after launching a complex or slow management task.
• Performance. Windows Vista will help improve PC performance in key areas, including starting up, waking up and responding to user actions. Performance features included in Windows Vista beta 1 include the following:
• Quick startup. Login scripts and startup applications and services process in the background while users perform their desired tasks.
• Sleep state. The new Sleep state in Windows Vista combines the speed of Standby mode with data protection features and low-power consumption of Hibernate. The Sleep state also allows users to change or remove a battery with little risk to open applications and data, since memory is safely written to the hard disk. Startup from the Sleep state requires just seconds, meaning fewer shutdowns and restarts are necessary, which helps improve power management.
• Superior memory management and improved input/output (I/O) management makes Windows Vista more responsive than previous versions of Windows, especially in the most noticeable tasks, such as opening the Start menu or right-clicking a file in Windows Explorer to display a shortcut menu.
Clear and Connected
Many of the innovative end-user features and user-interface (UI) changes for Windows Vista will not be included until the release of Windows Vista beta 2. However, Windows Vista beta 1 does include an early look at the new UI design, and showcases some of the features that will give users clear ways to organize and use their information and seamlessly connect to people and devices, including these:
• Searching and finding information.Windows Vista will introduce a new organization concept called a Virtual Folder, which is a saved search that is automatically and instantly run when a user opens the folder. In addition, every new Explorer in the operating system, including Internet Explorer, includes a new Quick Search box that enables customers to quickly search through large amounts of content being viewed or to initiate wider content searches across the PC.
• Glass and new Window animation. The Windows Vista desktop experience will deliver a new visual identity - translucent glass with more animation. Because it is visually intuitive, the glass helps users focus on the task at hand, whether reading a document, viewing a Web page or editing a photo.
• Redesigned Start menu with application search. The Windows Vista redesigned Start menu will make it faster and easier for users to find specific applications and to browse through all programs.
• Sync Manager. Windows Vista will unify the synchronization with the Sync Manager, a new interface that enables users to initiate a manual sync, stop an in-progress sync, see the status of current sync activities and receive notifications to resolve conflicts across all devices and data sources with the click of a single button.
• Networked projection for mobile PCs. Windows Vista will make it easier for users to connect a mobile PC to a projector over a network to display a presentation, or to share a presentation with nearby PCs. The networked projection feature allows a Windows Vista-based computer to detect nearby PCs or projectors and establish a connection through a network, regardless of whether the network is wired or wireless, ad hoc or part of a corporate infrastructure.
Internet Explorer 7 for Windows Vista Beta 1
In addition to the security features mentioned above, Internet Explorer 7 in Windows Vista beta 1 includes new capabilities that make everyday tasks easier, including support for tabbed browsing, a toolbar search box that includes AOL search, Ask Jeeves, Google, MSN® Search and Yahoo! Search, as well as shrink-to-fit printing of Web pages to automatically resize the page to print properly. Also, with new integrated support for emerging technologies such as Web feeds (RSS), users of Internet Explorer 7 in Windows Vista will get personalized news, sports, shopping information and blogs delivered directly to their PCs. Internet Explorer 7 in Windows Vista beta 2 will continue to build on the security enhancements with support for anti-phishing, which will help warn and protect users against fraudulent Web sites and personal data theft in the browser. It will also add a Protected Mode to give Internet Explorer sufficient rights to browse the Web, but not enough rights to modify user settings or data. Many of these new browser features will also be available to users of Windows XP through Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP Service Pack 2. Internet Explorer 7 beta 1 for Windows XP is now available to IT administrators, developers and enthusiasts for testing and evaluation through the Technical Beta Program and MSDN.
Windows Server, Code-Named "Longhorn"
The first beta of Windows Server™, code-named "Longhorn," also is now available to a limited number of participants in the Technical Beta Program, including hardware manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers, independent hardware vendors, system builders, independent software vendors and developers. The next version of Windows Server, code-named "Longhorn" is designed to provide a secure and reliable server platform, helping customers reduce IT complexity, increase end-user productivity and deliver rich new applications. The new server operating system is slated for final release in 2007.
"Avalon" and "Indigo"
Windows Vista beta 1 also includes the first beta of Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly known by the code name "Avalon") and Windows Communication Foundation (formerly known by the code name "Indigo"), which are part of the WinFX™ programming model. WinFX extends the Microsoft .NET Framework with classes for building new user interface experiences and advanced Web services. Together, they enable developers to build connected systems that take advantage of the processing power of the smart client, incorporate cutting-edge media and graphics, and communicate with other applications with improved security and reliability.
Minimum system requirements will not be known until summer 2006 at the earliest. However, these guidelines provide useful estimates:
• 512 megabytes (MB) or more of RAM
• A dedicated graphics card with DirectX 9.0 support
• A modern, Intel Pentium- or AMD Athlon-based PC.