Latest Vista Beta Is Just a Pretty Face

Opinion: The interface is pleasing, and the security enhancements might help, but the compelling new features are nowhere to be found.

New Vista Beta? Bah, Humbug!

The problem is not with your eyes. That is, if youve looked at our 37 slides depicting the latest and best version of Windows Vista and arent too terribly impressed, its not your eyes that are fooling you. Youre looking at whats there and reacting quite reasonably.

After seeing our slideshow, I found myself thinking, "Is that all there is?"

No, but its pretty close.

The December beta build were looking at is not feature-complete, something Microsoft hopes to achieve in the next week or so. We wont get to see that version, however, until sometime in January or even February. However, unless Microsoft has some trick up its sleeve, I am not expecting the feature-complete version to be all that different from what we have today.

So, while the current beta 5270 may not be all there is to Vista, there may not be too terribly much more.

As it stands, I am a tad non-plused that Vista isnt more exciting. Sure, the graphical look-and-feel is much improved, and the search capabilities are interesting. But, Windows users have gotten used to mediocre graphics and arent clamoring for something beta. If they had been, Apple would have sold many more Macs. As for desktop search, its more a feature for the future than today.

While Vista is certainly pretty—I was going to say "undeniably pretty" but thought better of it—Im wondering if the UI hasnt been simplified to the point of being dumbed down. Maybe the whole thing is too Macintosh-like.

Vista may well achieve user interface parity with Mac OS X, but that alone isnt enough to get users too excited. Vista needs to be more than just pretty, and Microsoft has yet to make a compelling case for what Vista is going to do for average users. As best I can tell, the major selling features are security, which for most people isnt really a selling feature at all, and improved access to information.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about security in Windows Vista.

I am hoping that achieving feature completeness will mean some compelling new feature has found its way into the Vista mix. What that might be, I am not sure.

On the security front, much of the work has been done under the covers. If Microsoft really wants to make a statement that Vista is a secure operating system it should do something dramatic, like boot Norton and the others out of the market. How? By providing a complete set of anti-malware applications and all the updates for free.

The newest beta introduces the name "Windows Defender" as a part of Vista. The name seems a tad overreaching for what is essentially a rebranding of the anti-spyware beta. Adding free antivirus would help Defender better live up to its name. Giving away complete malware protection is the right thing for Microsoft to do for all its operating systems, not just Vista.

As for the Vista timeline, the more widely distributed Beta 2 is beginning to look like a May or even a June phenomenon. That could push a final release into October or even November.

Somehow, OEMs will have Vista installed on next years holiday hardware releases. And customers will be happy to find it, even if they arent willing to stand in line, Xbox 360 fashion, to get the first Vista machines.

Corporate customers will take a wait-and-see attitude toward Vista, letting someone else find out whether the new OS really does solve security problems before investing themselves.

My fear is that Vista may just up the ante, making the criminals work harder but perhaps not reducing the overall threat to users and their computers. I hope I am wrong on that, but it seems quite plausible.

Perhaps my "Bah, Humbug" attitude toward the new Vista beta is just a case of pre-holiday moodiness. However, actually installing the beta and playing with it didnt change my overall impression that Vista doesnt do enough for the average user. Maybe running Vista and Office 12 beta together will make the total experience more compelling than Vista alone.

Or maybe the holidays will pass, nothing will actually change, but the New Year will show me Vista in a new light.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at

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