Microsoft Releases Vista CTP

Microsoft released its third community technology preview (CTP) of Windows Vista on Monday, saying a feature-complete version would be available early next year.

The release was sent to the roster of Vista beta testers in the morning and was expected to be available on the Microsoft Developers Network and TechNet sites later today. CTPs are designed for use by the technical community, to help developers understand how their applications might be affected by changes and also to garner product feedback. About 500,000 people are eligible for the download.

Shanen Boettcher, senior director for the Windows client group, said the company is on track to deliver a feature-complete build of Vista, the next-generation operating system, early in 2006.

“We’ve redefined the way we’re managing the lifecycle of the development process for Windows,” Boettcher said, “while the feedback is making the product much better.”

The current CTP shows updates to security, mobility, performance and the user interface, Boettcher said during a conference call.

On the security front, Windows Antispyware has been renamed Windows Defender, and it has improved detection and removal of spyware. The user interface was redesigned and simplified to make it easier to use and, like all Vista features, it can be run in standard user mode, rather than administrator mode, which reduces opportunities for crackers.

In response to customer feedback, the CTP lets administrators set group policy to control the use of removable storage devices such as USB flash drives, enabling admins to block their use in order to prevent corporate “information leak.”

Vista now includes support for international domain names in Internet Explorer, as well as protection from the spoofing of domain names. “You’ll see the ability to detect if a character is being used in a URL that is not consistent with the language the user has set to be running in,” Boettcher said. For example, if a URL contains an o with an umlaut and the user is running in English, that URL would be flagged for review.

Parental control features include the ability to limit the amount of time that the computer time used, to limit the Web sites that can be visited and to see detailed reports on usage.

Full-volume encryption can protect lost laptops by blocking access to the entire hard drive. This feature, dubbed BitLocker, is available in the control panel of the CTP build.

The latest preview includes SuperFetch, a caching algorithm that speeds up the computer by making sure things that are used most frequently are cached. Boettcher said Vista will also support the use of extended memory, so that users will be able to designate, for example, memory contained in a removable storage device for operations — unless their administrators have blocked it.

Finally, Microsoft developers have moved away from the often slow boot-up and shut-down procedures. Instead, they’ve shifted to a single-button, off/on control. The default off mode with be sleep mode, Boettcher said; in that state, a minimal amount of power will be used. After a predetermined time, the computer will roll into full hibernation. Hibernation uses no power at all, but offers the benefits of quick on and off.

The user interface has started to show some of the Aero transparency effects, as well as animation, and Media Player 11 also appears.

Boettcher said the team is closer to a feature-complete version of Vista than it had been in previous releases, and expects the code to be complete by the end of 2005, with the full version available as a beta early in 2006.

Last week, IT research firm Directions on Microsoft released a research note detailing Microsoft’s challenges for the year ahead. The first challenge was persuading businesses to upgrade to Vista, while the second was plugging security holes and reassuring enterprise customers that its applications were secure.

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