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Better Late Than Never?

There was a lot of excitement when Windows Vista beta 2 hit the streets in late May, but when eager testers got their hands on the code, that excitement turned to dismay. Windows Vista Beta 2, we all learned, was simply not ready for prime time.

A lot has changed with Vista Build 5472.5, an interim cut released in July that cleans up many of the most egregious flaws in Beta 2. Gone is the hopelessly sluggish performance that made the mass-produced beta all but unusable. Installation times are vastly improved -- I was able to upgrade from Windows XP in about two hours, down from three-plus hours with Beta 2. Processor loads when running things like glass effects and transparent Vista Sidebar gadgets are typically below 20 percent, much better than the 60 percent to 80 percent I often saw under Beta 2.

While there are no major changes to the interface since Beta 2, Microsoft has implemented a host of refinements. Much of the work went toward reducing the "chattiness" of the Vista interface, which frequently badgers users about running certain applications or changing system settings. User account management has also been streamlined. Other tweaks include an improved Flip3D view -- essentially Alt-Tab on steroids -- and some pretty significant work on the Media Center interface, though more work remains before this functionality is cleaned up fully.

Vista Flip3D view
[Click on image for larger view.]
The refined Flip3D view makes it much easier to recognize detail on the various application windows.

Based on what we've seen in Build 5472.5, can Microsoft release Vista to commercial customers in November? Maybe not. Microsoft needs to produce a release candidate in September if it wants final code ready in November. Yet, a lot of work remains. For instance, I've seen Windows Explorer lock up hard -- requiring a reboot -- at least once, and I was rudely surprised by a blue screen of death. The test system also sometimes struggled to emerge from sleep mode.

Compatibility remains an issue. The latest Vista build refused to install on a Pentium 4 PC with a Promise Technology RAID controller, and mainstream software like Quicken 2006 will not work on the current Vista build. It's likely that many applications will need to be updated to run under Vista.

While Vista Build 5472.5 does a much better job of showing off the bells and whistles in the new operating system, few IT managers will upgrade just to get tweaks like the Vista Sidebar or the Windows Photo Gallery application. Instead, they're looking for the fully bi-directional firewall, which examines both inbound and outbound packets, and the powerful User Account Control functionality, which effectively limits user rights to reduce malware exposure. There's also the added benefit of Internet Explorer disabling ActiveX functionality, and running in a strictly cordoned sandbox -- a function not present in the non-Vista version of IE7. The innovation cuts off a popular vector for malicious code entering the system.

Vista Build 5472.5 is a noticeably improved and significantly stronger offering than the troubled Beta 2 product Microsoft released two months before. The question is, has it arrived in time to let Microsoft make its self-imposed November release deadline?

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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