On Monday, Microsoft releases its second Community Technology Preview of Windows Vista to beta testers and subscribers to MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and TechNet. While testing the new build over the past few days, weve noted a number of incremental changes that have appeared since the September PDC (Professional Developers Conference) CTP, as well as a few truly significant ones.
The new CTP release, known as build 5231, provides a first glimpse of Windows Media Player 11 and additions to the Windows Security Center, including hooks for an integrated anti-spyware tool.
Improvements to the Vista shell are continuing, diagnostic capabilities are growing, and Internet Explorer 7 is shaping up.
There are a few skeletal new applications that dont yet have much substantive functionality: a simple contact manager, a calendar applet, and a digital photo manager called Microsoft Digital Gallery.
Microsoft also tells us that build 5231 implements a variety of capabilities at the API (application programming interface) level, meaning their benefit wont become apparent to most users until applications or the shell exploit those new capabilities.
One example is Restart Manager. Acknowledging that rebooting after the installation of security hotfixes and other patches is a hassle, Microsoft designed the Restart Manager API to let applications receive notification that the system needs to be rebooted, so they can save their current state and then recover it upon restart.
A system whose running applications all exploit the Restart Manager API should be able to reboot and return to the state it was in just before rebooting, saving users the trouble of restarting applications and reloading documents (to say nothing of recovering documents that hadnt been saved).
Microsoft expects this capability to be particularly welcome in enterprise environments, where system administrators could force workstations to apply a hotfix at, say, 2 a.m., without disrupting users who left applications running overnight.
One caveat: applications that dont implement Restart Manager would still be shut down by force, so this scenario requires extensive support from third-party developers to be maximally effective.
Microsoft has also changed the boot manager in build 5231, providing a new layer of abstraction that supports both traditional BIOS ROMs (Basic Input/Output System ROMs) and the NVRAM/EFI (non-volatile RAM / Extensible Firmware Interface) boot configuration mechanism used, for example, by systems with 64-bit Intel Itanium processors.
The new boot manager still supports multi-booting scenarios, but rather than changing boot menu options by editing BOOT.INI as in current versions of Windows, youll use a command-line utility called BCDEDIT.EXE.
Vista now includes a series of enhanced diagnostics as well, including memory, disk, and network diagnostics. These diagnostics are accessible to IT administrators via Group Policy and the new Windows event manager interface.