Yesterday, at its Professional Developers Conference in Anaheim, Calif., Microsoft handed out copies of a new post-Beta 1 version of Windows Vista, dubbed Build 5219.
The PDC build is to be the first of a series of roughly monthly Vista test builds that Microsoft Corp. plans to distribute to the same audience of developers and large customers who received the Beta 1 code.
eWEEK Labs expects this "release early, release often" testing strategy to give customers a greater opportunity to participate in the process than theyve had with previous Windows releases.
We loaded up the new bits on one of the machines in the lab to see how much Vista has progressed over the last couple of months.
The biggest additions in the current test release are a set of eye-candy features that take advantage of Vistas new hardware-accelerated presentation framework.
Vista systems capable of supporting the operating systems high-end Aero Glass interface—that is, machines with fairly new, gaming-level video cards—can now render the task bar with transparency, as well as display thumbnail pictures of running applications in the task bar and in the alt-tab window-cycling dialog.
Also, Microsoft appears to have directly lifted a 3-D interface element from Sun Microsystems Inc.s Looking Glass technology preview, in which hitting the windows key and the space bar together presents open windows in an angled view.
Along similar lines, Vista sports new animations for closing and minimizing windows, which are intended to convey a clearer sense of whats going on while youre operating Vista.
We thought these new visual elements were cool-looking and even marginally useful, but they still fall well short of making the case for video card upgrades once Vista hits the streets—were interested in seeing what else the Vista interface developers have up their sleeves in the months ahead.
In what has become our first checklist item for every Vista refresh release, we checked to see if the open-source graphics application, GIMP, would run on Vista—it hasnt yet on any of the Longhorn or Vista builds weve tested so far.
GIMP still doesnt run, although we had no trouble running the Gaim instant messaging application, which is built on the same GTK framework as GIMP.
As in previous versions, Vista dutifully logged GIMPs failure to run in its event viewer.
We found in Build 5219 new peer-to-peer networking interface elements that had been absent from the Beta 1 code, but we werent able to make the two 5219 machines we configured for the test to locate each other or share anything peer-to-peer.
We noticed one change in Internet Explorer 7: Where, in the Beta 1 code, we were able to select from a handful of Internet search providers, we had no such options in this latest build.
However, when we visited google.com, the site offered a small application for download that, after we installed it, made Google our default search engine —without any option to switch back or to uninstall the application.
We expect to see the IE7 team sort this out by launch, hopefully implementing a flexible, extensible search plug-in framework like the one in Firefox.
Vistas User Account Protection feature, which is meant to prompt limited-rights users for elevated credentials where needed (as Linux and Mac OS X have done for some time now), was enabled by default in the bits we tested. It had not been in Beta 1.
In our last test, we had a problem with not being prompted for credentials while running Vistas services management tool. We had the same problem with this latest build.
Another item that tripped us up in testing was Vistas Virtual Store feature, which automatically presents a virtualized set of system folders to users —files that you copy into "Program Files," for instance, actually go into a per-user virtual store.
As far as we could tell, the only user exempt from this system folder sleight-of-hand was the default "Administrator" user that comes with the installation.
System folder changes we made with the test user that we created with administrative rights werent applied to the actual system folders—we needed to log in as Administrator to make those changes.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at email@example.com.