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More Bits From Windows Vista

Microsoft released a community technology preview (CTP) of Windows Vista on Monday.

The CTP lets the technical community analyze some of the new operating system's features and functions -- and lets developers find out if it's likely to break their apps.

While Microsoft cautioned that the Vista CTP is far from the final version, it includes several new features:

  • Desktop management tools;
  • Built-in diagnostics for trouble-shooting the PC, including finding memory problems and monitoring and alerting users when disk problems occur;
  • Integrated network diagnostics for the entire network stack;
  • Network Center, a hub for managing networking computers and devices that replaces My Network Places and Network Neighborhood;
  • Smoother transitions between On, Sleep and Shut Down modes;
  • Simplified sharing, so users can specify which files or folders they want to share and generate an e-mail message notifying others in the group;
  • The ability to create and digitally sign documents in the XML Paper Specification (XPS) format

Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said that the CTP would appeal to "people who want to be in the thick of things, who want to have an early window into what may be coming down the road." At the same time, it serves as a way for Microsoft to get feedback and gauge reaction to different features -- or the lack thereof.

"Even Microsoft is saying that these previews might not be as stable as a beta build," Cherry said. "Is it worth giving up some stability to look at these features?"

The CTP includes a new version of Internet Explorer for Windows Vista that includes security enhancements, such as a Phishing Filter, the need to opt in to launching ActiveX controls, and tabbed browsing, which includes both the ability to see thumbnails of all open tabs and also the ability to save tabs as a group.

Microsoft also has worked on improving compliance with standards, including better adherence to the cascading style sheets (CSS) 2.1 standard; a developer toolbar, which will provide Web developers with a rich tool set with object model and visual tools, helping them more easily take advantage of dynamic hypertext markup language (DHTML) and CSS in developing rich Web sites; and support for international domain names in Web addresses.

Microsoft warned that some features of this Vista CTP would undergo significant changes.

The new Migration Wizard, Power Management Center and settings, Windows AntiSpyware, Windows Calendar and Windows Media Player 11 are still in the early stages of development, the company said.

The October CTP became available on Monday to around 500,000 developers who either are members of the Windows Vista Technical Beta Program or subscribers of the Microsoft Developer Network and Microsoft TechNet.

Haff said that the CTP process has a bit of open source flavor to it.

"In the sense of having this ongoing awareness of and feedback mechanism, it does mirror certain elements of open source development," Haff said. "If not openness of code and standards, there is greater visibility into what's going on. Customers have visibility more than an ability to necessarily influence Microsoft greatly."

Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry said that not only ISVs, but also corporate developers and even enterprise administrators, need to keep an eye on Vista to make sure their lines of business apps work.

For example, in previous versions of Windows, users run as administrators by default. That changes with Vista, so developers may have to change their applications if they assume admin privileges. "You can't take the point of view that only ISVs need to test this," Cherry said.

Nevertheless, Cherry said, that doesn't mean that anyone who was using the Beta 1 version, released in July, should instead load up this CTP, because the beta build is more stable.

The decision depends on whether there are additional features in the CTP that are important for an individual business or application, he said.

Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady, who hadn't had a look at the Vista CTP, summed up the dilemma of many developers, saying only, "So many things to download, so little time."