Like many of you on the MSDN programme, I too have downloaded the Beta 1 version of Vista (the operating system formerly known as Longhorn). And what a big bouncing baby it is, waddling in at well over 2GB. Compared to XP, this size leap irrevocably breaks the single-bootable-CD barrier and moves us straight into the realm of bootable DVD. We give an overview of the Vista on p140, and I’ll continue to update you in future columns, but this month I just want to touch on a few features that have intrigued me or made me look a little askance, or even sit back and wonder what’s going on.
First, don’t expect that Beta 1 to wow you with a load of stunning new features. I’m hoping that all these changes will come in the later beta builds, which would certainly follow previous form. What you’ll find are a lot of detail changes: almost everywhere you look, something is new. For example, dive into the display driver panel, which looks just the same as before, but dig into the font sizing part of it; 96lpi (logical pixels per inch) has been the standard resolution in Windows for over 15 years now, if you ignore oddities like the 8514A mode from IBM, which attempted to squeeze an eye-wateringly nasty 1,024 x 768 interlaced mode onto a 15in screen and which therefore required a hike from 96 to 120lpi. But in Beta 1 this is now called the XP Compatible Size, and the new Normal Size is 90lpi.
Why this change? I don’t know for sure, but it might be more sensible for larger screen sizes. You might also have heard that some of the DRM (digital rights management) in Vista is going to be quite ferocious. Want to watch high-definition video on a Vista system? Well you’ll need to have a monitor that supports the DRM locks that are coming – try using an ordinary screen, even a large high-definition digitally connected monitor on sale today, and all you’ll get is a low-resolution version.
There’s a new build of Internet Explorer in the system too, labelled IE 7 (though some stirrers are saying that IE 6.1 might be a better label for it) and it isn’t yet clear whether Microsoft is really going to bite the bullet and release an IE version that’s truly standards compliant. Frankly, Microsoft is more likely to sit on its hands and whinge that it has to be compliant with its own ‘standards’ from the past, and that this is limiting its room for manoeuvre. The reality is that Microsoft views it as being an entirely legacy solution now, and all the work is going into preventing Vista and IE 7 becoming such a nest of spyware vipers as the mess that is IE 6 on XP. User management has been slightly improved, though it currently falls a long way short of what’s needed for a fully secured home solution – maybe there’s more to come in later betas.
So what’s the bottom line? Well, Microsoft is going to need to show a fantastically compelling presentation at the September Professional Developers Conference (PDC) if it’s going to engage with the software development community, and there’s little here to get a small business excited either. Okay, yes, it’s still early days and there’s another year to go, but I can’t shake off this queasy feeling that too much of Vista seems effectively done and dusted, locked down for the release cycle, and that there just isn’t enough sizzle to really fire the imagination. It’s as if each subteam in the XP development world had been asked to come up with its Top 10 list of things to fix or improve, and that all of this has then just been thrown into a melting pot. Yes, it’s better, but where’s the singular driving vision? The clock is ticking and the PDC will be a fascinating barometer of developer opinion – a hint of the likely fate of Vista.