Vista—Its Alive

Microsoft's latest build introduces Windows Live links to the desktop.

As of Aug. 16, Microsoft was on the brink of delivering a new Windows Vista build—possibly Build 5506—to testers, according to Vista testers who requested anonymity. The forthcoming build will embed links to a number of Microsofts Windows Live services.

Microsoft was gunning to release the new build sometime during the week of Aug. 14, testers said. That build may be 5506 or a slightly later build, they said.

On the Welcome screen in Build 5506, Microsoft is including direct download links for Windows Live Messenger, Live OneCare, Live Toolbar and Live Mail Desktop, according to screen shots of a Vista Ultimate 5506 build obtained by Microsoft Watch.

In addition, Microsoft is including Windows Live Messenger as an option selectable from the Start menu of Build 5506, according to another screen shot of the new build. Its not clear whether Microsoft is completely replacing the Windows Messenger instant messaging component that was integrated in previous Windows builds with Windows Live Messenger, but it appears so.

Microsoft officials would not comment on Build 5506 and declined to say when technical testers would receive a refreshed Vista test build.

Windows Live is a growing collection of software-service add-ons for Windows. Microsoft officials said there are about 20 such services, but a recent tally of Windows Live services and sites indicates the real number exceeds 40.

Windows Live Messenger is the successor to MSN Messenger, Microsofts free IM service. Windows Live OneCare is the subscription-based backup and security service the company launched in late May. Windows Live Toolbar is a collection of Windows Live search, anti-virus, mapping and other utilities similar to the Google Toolbar. Windows Live Mail Desktop is a program that allows users to view mail from all their e-mail accounts in one pane.

Microsoft is expected to distribute an interim build to a preselected group of technical and TAP (Technology Adoption Program) testers only. This build will likely be the last test build that Microsoft will release externally before it rolls out Release Candidate 1.

RC1 will be a near-final build of Vista that Microsoft is planning to make available to millions of testers. According to a recent posting on the Windows Vista team blog, Microsoft plans to make RC1 available to all 2 million-plus participants in the Beta 2/Customer Preview Program, as well as to other interested parties.

Testers had been expecting Microsoft to deliver RC1 in late August. They are now predicting Microsoft will roll out RC1 in the first half of September. Publicly, Microsoft officials have not promised anything beyond a third-quarter-2006 delivery date for RC1.

Microsoft officials also are sticking to the ship dates for Vista they outlined in March 2006. They have said the company is planning to make Vista available to its volume-license customers in November 2006 and to make the product available through all channels in January 2007, unless quality concerns are sufficient to warrant another delay.

Company watchers have been wondering whether Microsoft would bundle any Windows Live services directly into Windows, given the ongoing antitrust scrutiny to which the company has been subject in recent years in the United States and abroad.

Microsofts decision whether to integrate Windows Live services into Vista "probably has more to do with Microsofts interpretation of assorted global government restrictions than it does assessments of real-world customer value," said Peter OKelly, an analyst with Burton Group, in Andover, Mass.

Microsofts OEM unit has been negotiating with PC makers and systems builders to preload certain Windows Live services on new Vista machines, according to Scott Di Valerio, corporate vice president of that unit. One deal, cemented earlier this year between Dell and Google, involved Dell preloading Google desktop search on certain Dell desktop and laptop units. Similar agreements are in the works involving Windows Live preloads, said Di Valerio in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft has been releasing monthly Vista builds to testers. Many testers said they have seen progress in the performance and stability of the operating system. Nonetheless, in July, some of Microsofts most visible testers took to their blogs to advocate that Microsoft add an unscheduled Beta 3 to Vistas timetable, claiming Vista was not ready to go to RC1 and needed more time.

Microsoft Watch Editor Mary Jo Foley can be reached at