Windows Vista Beta Is On

UPDATED: The end of the long road to Longhorn finally appeared over the horizon, with Microsoft’s release today of early test versions of its next-generation client and server operating systems.

On Wednesday, Microsoft delivered the beta 1 releases of Windows Vista (formerly code-named Longhorn) and the still-code-named Longhorn Server.

Microsoft executives said Windows Vista beta 1 focuses on the fundamentals of security, deployment, manageability, reliability and diagnostics.

According to Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, the Windows Vista beta mirrors Microsoft’s overall product strategy.

“What’s typical of Microsoft releases [is] there’s a lot in there for the PC support people and a lot for developers, but the end user probably won’t see all that much except window dressing. [IT pros] have always been their focus, because that’s where money is.”

The beta code for the Windows client included some of the features Microsoft is adding to beef up security. User Account Protection lets administrators limit user privileges. Applications by default will run with limited permissions. Windows Service Hardening monitors for abnormal activity in the file system, registry and network that signals Trojan or spyware activity. Worms and viruses will automatically be removed from the computer during an upgrade.

Redmond’s engineers tightened up security for stolen or lost laptops and devices as well, with full-volume encryption, and encryption keys are stored in a chip.

There are two strategies for preventing compromised laptops and other mobile devices from infecting corporate networks. Network Access Protection won’t let mobile users connect to the enterprise network unless they meet its security criteria, while administrators can control which applications can communicate on the network.

Beleaguered administrators may look forward to Windows Vista’s promised ease of integration.

The beta 1 includes the Windows Imaging (WIM) format, a single, compressed file that contains one or more complete Windows Vista installation images. According to Microsoft, image-based setup is less error-prone than scripted installation.

The Windows Pre-installation Environment lets administrators configure Windows offline to diagnose and troubleshoot the hardware before launching the setup process. They can use the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to identify, analyze and resolve issues with non-standard applications being migrated to Windows Vista.

vista folders
Click here to see a larger view of the Virtual Folders

Web Services for Management (WS-Management) makes it easier to run scripts remotely and to perform other management tasks. Microsoft Management Console 3.0 (MMC 3.0) provides a common framework for management tools, making them easier to find and use, with richer graphical user interfaces that let admins run multiple tasks in parallel.

Although Microsoft said it would cut WinFX developer tools from Longhorn, the Windows Vista beta 1 does include the first beta of Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly Avalon) and Windows Communication Foundation (code-named Indigo). WinFX will enable the Windows client to take advantage of new kinds of media and graphics, and also to communicate with other applications via Web services.

The Vista beta does include some of the user interface enhancements that Microsoft has been hyping. The new design features a “translucent glass” appearance and a redesigned Start menu. And Virtual Folders constantly feed the results of XML queries such as keywords or topics into the folder as new files on the desktop are created. Microsoft said most end-user features will arrive with the beta 2 version.

The IE 7 beta unveils a couple of tricks Microsoft is doing to replace the exploit-prone browser. When a user visits a secure sockets layer-protected site, the address bar is highlighted, and it’s easier to check a site’s security certificate. Users can clear the cache with one click.

IE 7 adds the tabbed browsing much loved by users of the Firefox, Opera and Safari browsers. The company began offering in June via the MSN toolbar. A search box integrated into the browser toolbar offers a choice between MSN and its rivals, such as Ask Jeeves , Google and Yahoo . It includes integrated support for RSS feeds.

Click here to see a larger view of the search results page

The new browser offers a Protected Mode that lets it traverse the Web but not modify user settings or data to prevent the surreptitious or inadvertent modifications made by spyware and adware.

Microsoft invited 10,000 beta testers from its Longhorn Technical Beta Program to take the code for a ride. Members of MSDN, the developer program and Microsoft TechNet also will be invited.

As previously reported, Redmond also offered the core foundation and APIs for Longhorn Server in a private beta program.

The objective of the private beta program is to gather feedback from partners, including OEMs, hardware vendors, systems builders, independent software vendors and developers. The new version aims to offer administration-friendly features, such as policy-based networking, improved branch management and better end-user collaboration.

Microsoft didn’t expand on the system requirements for Windows Vista, beyond saying users will need “modern” Intel Pentium- or AMD Athlon-based PCs with 512MB or more of RAM and dedicated graphics cards with DirectX 9.0.

Microsoft will tout these “milestones” at its Financial Analysts Day tomorrow. Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff said that showing progress on both Longhorn and Office 12 would reassure the Street that Microsoft still is on a rising revenue path.

“It’s important now because people are [considering] buying multi-year agreements, so Microsoft has to tell them something to get them to sign up for the next version.”

News Around the Web