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Enterprises Get a Look at Feature-Complete Vista Test Code

As expected, Microsoft announced Wednesday that it is shipping the first feature-complete test release of Windows Vista – this one aimed at giving enterprise customers a chance to run it through rigorous testing, especially for compatibility with existing corporate applications.

The latest community technology preview, referred to as the “enterprise CTP,” will be followed by one more next quarter, which will take the product all the way up through the end of what Microsoft has referred to as the Beta 2 phase, company officials said in a briefing call with members of the press.

The CTP next quarter will reach a broader, more consumer-oriented audience, and be the last testing phase before Vista reaches Microsoft’s release candidate stage – the last phase before release to manufacturing. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has dubbed that release as the “consumer CTP.” Windows Vista is still on track for delivery in the second half of the year, executives said.

One major area of focus that IT professionals should be looking at as they receive the enterprise CTP is whether they need to change custom applications to work with new security features, including significant changes in the default configuration of new users’ privileges. A lot of existing custom corporate applications have to date required that the user be set up in “administrator” mode, the highest level of privileges.

In Vista, the default user privilege level will be a constrained set of rights Microsoft calls “standard” mode. That change could cause applications to fail. So in an effort to get more large customers to migrate to Vista earlier, Microsoft officials are urging them to begin compatibility testing now.

“This [release] is a call to action, for IT professionals to start looking at those apps to see if they need to be in administrator’s mode,” said Brad Goldberg, general manager of the Windows Client division. In parallel, the company is working on an application compatibility toolkit, a beta of which is due in time for the next CTP, Goldberg said.

Even though commercial release of Vista is only months away at this point, testers can still expect to see a few rough edges. When asked why an important feature in Vista’s new “sidebar” tool didn’t work properly in pre-release testing of the enterprise CTP, Goldberg succinctly replied: “Just because we’re feature-complete doesn’t mean we’re finished.”

Despite the confusion in the marketplace and among the press engendered by the changes Microsoft made in its beta testing process late last year, officials maintain that the switch to more CTPs instead of a handful of beta test build drops will let them more adequately test the product.

“We’re giving customers a more feature-complete version than we have [at this point in the test cycle] on any earlier version of Windows,” Goldberg said. With the enterprise CTP, the Vista beta is now available to more than half a million users, he added.

Officials emphasized four areas in Vista designed to make life easier for corporate IT staff. These include features to reduce deployment costs and staff demands related to deployment, and new security features such as the BitLocker disk encryption technology and changes in user account control.

On the deployment front – an important topic for IT consideration – Vista provides a new system image format aimed at letting staff create many fewer images that need to be deployed and maintained. “In the past, each language, each form factor, each role, an IT administrator would need to create an individual profile,” Goldberg said.

Officials declined to comment on the recent brouhaha over the mistaken posting of a help page on Microsoft’s site that appeared to list what specific editions of Vista the company will offer users, instead saying they will be making that information public “very soon.”

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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