With this weeks release of the latest Windows Vista Community Technology Preview, which Microsoft has labeled "feature complete," our view of the Windows-to-be is beginning to snap into focus.
eWEEK Labs tested the new CTP code, Build 5308, and found that Vista has outgrown much of the unresponsiveness and unpredictability that marked previous test builds.
We recommend that organizations contemplating an early move to Vista—which is set to ship this fall—install Build 5308 on a test system and begin checking vital applications for compatibility.
In whats become a standard compatibility test with Vista builds, we attempted to run the open-source graphics application GIMP with Build 5308. This time, we were successful.
We tested the new CTP code on the same box on which weve tested previous Vista builds—a 2.53GHz Pentium IV-powered desktop with 512MB of RAM.
We also stuck with the beefy Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card weve used in previous tests, and it again delivered all the shininess and drop-shadowed goodness that Vistas Aero Glass user interface has to offer.
We could—and did, for a time—drop down to the Windows 2000-like "classic" UI mode, which worked just as well, if not as stylishly, as Aero Glass.
One of the most promising new features of Windows Vista is its bolstered support for LUP (Least User Privileges)—that is, long-overdue support for enabling regular Windows users to run without administrative rights and the security vulnerability that blanket administrative permission is heir to.
Since our review of Beta 1 of Vista, the systems LUP mechanisms have grown considerably smoother: Pretty much any administrative activity we engaged in prompted authentication requests, which brings Windows at least up to par with OS X and Linux in this regard.
The trouble spot with all three of these platforms, however, is that users will require both administrator and limited authentication levels to perform such basic administrative tasks as changing their systems time or time zone.
Its not clear at this point what Vista (or its competition) will offer to reduce the administrative hassle of doubled credentials.
With Build 5308, we also got our first chance to test out Vistas BitLocker volume encryption facility. We managed to encrypt our test systems hard drive without trouble, but we ran into a snag when we rebooted the system.
Wed chosen to store our encryption key on a USB keychain device, but Vista didnt recognize that device at boot time. Instead, we had to type in the lengthy key.
Microsoft has highlighted deployment improvements among the notable additions in this build, but we were disappointed that we werent able to upgrade directly from the previous CTP build wed been running.
We did, however, note the presence of a settings migration tool; we were able to use it to transfer application settings, files and favorites from one of our Windows XP test machines to our Vista CTP box.
We also noted a speedup in installation time: It took 40 minutes to install this CTP build, compared with more than 60 minutes to install previous builds.
We expect to see this time further trimmed in the builds leading up to Vista RTM. Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.