Light at the End of the Vista Tunnel

Labs' test of Microsoft Vista RC2 shows the OS is ready to roll

Its been a long and winding road, but the Microsoft Windows Vista release thats been floating vaguely in the near future (for years now) finally appears to be close at hand.

First, though, comes what eWeek Labs hopes to be the last in an extended line of next-generation Windows client test builds: 5744, also known as Vista Release Candidate 2.

eWeek Labs loaded up this release on our test rig, which is outfitted with an Intel Pentium 4 processor, 1GB of RAM and—so that we may dip our cup in the waters of Aero Glass—a beefy Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card.

We noted that our RC2 installation process ran somewhat slower than some past installs wed undertaken (about 50 minutes). This may have been because we did a clean install but opted not to wipe our partition clean. Rather, we allowed Vistas installer to move our previous installation, Build 5728, to a windows.old directory so that we could still access files from that incarnation.

That said, we saw very little difference in RC2 as compared with the last builds we tested, 5600 and 5728. These earlier builds delivered peppy performance, and our experience with 5744 was much the same.

As with previous builds, we installed the Trend Micro Vista Antivirus Beta that the systems Security Center suggested as a salve for the lack of security add-on software it discovered.

In past tests, the Trend Micro software replaced the Vista firewall, a swap we didnt want and one that prompted us to uninstall the anti-virus software.

This time, however, Vista blocked the firewall swap itself, reporting that the Trend Micro firewall was unsupported and that, as a result, Vista would keep its own firewall running.

Seeking to create a standard-rights user to try out RC2s UAC (User Account Control), we took advantage of the search box built into Vistas start menu. The search function led us right to the systems user creation tool; once there, we created a Standard User. Vistas built-in help utility explained why standard rights accounts make sense and offered some pointers on assigning a strong password. In earlier builds of Vista, this built-in help was full of placeholder text, but its now looking fairly well-baked.

While Vistas UAC itself has firmed up considerably through the test process, there remain some confusing elements. For instance, we led our Standard User, Stan, to delete an arbitrary system file, and Vista asked for admin permission to carry out the operation. However, when we offered the requested admin permission, Vista neither assented to nor denied the operation. Instead, the operating system asked us repeatedly to enter our credentials until we cancelled the operation.

Now that weve reached Vista RC2, weve had a good deal of time to become accustomed to the changes in the systems Internet Explorer file manager, including all the new options for stacking, sorting and adding metadata to files—that is, files that Vista supports in this way. We keep forgetting, for instance, that Vista doesnt support metadata for the PNG (Portable Network Graphics) image format, in which we often take screen shots.

During our RC2 tests, we had the opportunity to try out a beta of the New York Times reader, which is a slick-looking example of whats possible with the new Windows Presentation Format. The tool also supports Windows XP. The new reader is the first non-demo application weve seen that uses Vistas new Windows Presentation Framework (formerly known as "Avalon").

Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

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