After weeks of waiting for a new, official Windows Vista test build, testers got their fix on August 25, when Microsoft posted release number 5536 for download.
The new build is available to a pre-selected set of technical beta testers only. The new release is designated as a "pre-RC1," or pre-Release Candidate 1, build. The build previews some of the new features and design changes that Microsoft will make available to millions of testers – probably some time next month – as part of the Vista RC1 build.
Microsoft released the new build to TechBeta, Technical Adoption Program (TAP), Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and a subset of the Customer Preview Program (CPP) participants, Microsoft officials confirmed at the end of the day on Friday.
A number of testers who downloaded the build in the early hours of Friday morning were impressed by the performance improvements that Microsoft had made to the latest Vista build.
"Performance is about 3x better so far on my Dell Inspiron 9300, and driver support is phenomenal!" blogged Matt Freestone on the Windows Connected blog.
"I didn't have a single device that didn't come through setup installed except for the sound card which hit Windows Update and immediately downloaded and installed the driver, and did NOT require a reboot before it began to function! Amazing! I think that is the first time I have ever seen a sound card driver install without requiring a reboot. Windows sidebar is less resource intensive, and the current gadgets, while still limited (still missing that elusive Windows Media Player gadget) are much more refined and nice to look at," Freestone continued.
Tester Brandon LeBlanc also was upbeat about performance enhancements in 5536.
"Microsoft has really improved the performance of Windows Vista which is apparent in this build," LeBlanc blogged."My memory usage isn't flying high or at least as high as it was.My harddrive is spinning less as well. Things respond faster. Although lacking in fit-and-finish for the UI, the fit-and-finish for performance is right here and its amazing. There are, however, still hiccups. Windows Media Player has crashed on me a few times this evening doing the simplest things and I managed to crash the search indexer too."
LeBlanc said he was still worried about the overall state of Vista, as of this late-stage milestone, however.
"I still stand by my thoughts that his is not the place Microsoft should be with a "release candidate". There are still missing fit-and-finish pieces to the UI (including a boot screen) and also those neat new Vista sounds have yet to make it into Vista," LeBlanc said.
Robert McLaws, president of Interscape – who has been working with a number of the smaller, interim Vista builds leading up to 5536 – also blogged about performance gains.
"Microsoft didn't check some major performance enhancements in till late in the game. Their build process changed as part of the SDL (Software Development Lifecycle), and now code isn't checked in till it's finished and been reviewed, etc. Sometimes teams can go five weeks or more before their works gets checked in. Too bad they neglected to tell all of us that," McLaws said.
McLaws also noted improvements in Vista's ability to accommodate driver hiccups "without bringing the whole system down."
Microsoft has dropped a number of interim test builds of Vista to technical testers during the past few weeks. A couple of weeks ago, some testers received Build 5506. That build included a number of download links to Windows Live services, including Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live OneCare, Windows Live Mail Desktop and Windows Live Toolbar. It also included, testers said, the actual Windows Live Messenger instant-messaging bits as part of the Ultimate SKU test build.
According to testers, the 5506 build also included a choice of two default home pages installed: MSN.com and Live.com. The two pages opened on two different tabs in the Internet Explorer 7 build that is integrated into Vista, testers said.
After 5506, Microsoft subsequently released to some testers Build 5520. Many testers expected Microsoft to designate the 5520 build as the "Pre-RC1" release. But the Vista team discovered a flaw in that build that led Microsoft to move on to another build for Pre-RC1 consideration, according to tester sources, who asked not to be named.
Microsoft is working to hit its internally imposed deadline of delivering the Vista RC1 Customer Preview Program by the end of September. That build is slated to go to more than two million testers.
Microsoft already has set up a sign-up page for the RC1 "Evaluation and Resource Kit." Microsoft is charging $9.95 for the kit, which will include the RC1 build, tools, documentation and monitored newsgroup support.
Testers said Microsoft is planning to make changes to the Vista Classic interface and Windows Explorer, as of the RC1 build. It is not clear whether these changes made it into the 5536 build.
Microsoft is still gunning to release Vista to manufacturing this fall and make the code available to businesses as of November. The worldwide Vista and Office 2007 launch is still currently slated for January 2007.
(This story was updated at 5:30 PM EST on August 25 to include information from Microsoft.)