Vista’s care in the community

Microsoft has changed the way it organises the beta testing of its operating systems. No longer do we get a Beta 1, a Beta 2, followed maybe by a Beta 3, and then a smattering of Release Candidates followed by Gold Code. No, now in the all-embracing, comfortable world of the Internet, we get the Community Tech Preview (CTP) instead. Awww, doesn’t it just make you feel warm and loved? In reality, it’s just another bug-ridden beta release, but there’s a clear intention to push these previews out to many more people than traditionally would have been involved in an old-style beta test programme. Of course, there’s still the core beta-testing group and nothing much has changed with that: it would be interesting to inspect the bug-reporting statistics nowadays, as a few years back Microsoft claimed that the vast majority of bugs were actually found and reported internally.

Vista's care in the community

Anyway, build 5308 has now been released as a CTP, and I thought it was worth giving some space to it in this column, because it’s clearly now flying down the glide path towards final release. I haven’t been giving Vista much coverage up until now because there have been plenty of websites documenting each and every dialog box for your delectation and delight, and it was too early for any sort of meaningful business-planning implications to be highlighted. That’s all changing now, and over the next few months I’ll start digging down into what I think is really interesting in Vista, both from a positive and negative point of view, and its likely effect on your businesses.

First, let’s set the scene by detailing the various Vista versions that Microsoft has announced. You’d think this was going to be an easy job, but it’s actually very far from it. You see, there’s now a whole cloud of new versions, and it isn’t even particularly clear as to what features are going to be in each version.

To start at the home-user side of things, there’s Vista Home Basic, which is going to be a cheap upgrade from XP Home. It will be 32-bit only and won’t have the nice new Aero user interface, so it’s a good choice for someone with an old, fairly low-spec PC that may have originally started off running Windows 98 or ME. Then there’s Vista Home Premium, which is the new funky release aimed at higher-powered consumer machines. This has all the functionality of Windows Media Center and Tablet PC versions thrown into it, both of which are now ceasing to be offered as separate products. You can run this on 64-bit CPUs and you also get the Aero user interface.

On the business side, there’s Vista Business, which takes over from XP Professional, and then Vista Enterprise, which is Business plus three key additions: hardware encryption (called Windows BitLocker Driver Encryption), a complete Unix subsystem (which was previously a free download) and support for multilanguage installation onto one machine so different users can get their own national language on the same PC. Vista Enterprise will be available only via volume licensing deals.

Is that it, then? Oh no, there’s more. There’s going to be a Vista Ultimate, which is basically an amalgamation of Home Premium with Enterprise, all in one package. So you get the home stuff such as all the media centre and pen interface capabilities, but also the hardware encryption and so forth. Maybe this should have been called Kitchen Sink Edition. Is that it? No, there’s more still! Or rather, there might be, but not according to Microsoft itself. To appease EU officialdom, a rather weird version of XP called the N version, which doesn’t include Media Player, has been developed. Apparently, some twits at the EU thought that removing Media Player would somehow clip Microsoft’s wings and level the playing field for its competitors. It’s therefore likely that there will be N versions of both Vista Home Basic and Business. That’s surely everything? No, there’s even more! Vista Starter is a super-low-end version that comes in beneath Home Basic and is aimed at developing-world emerging markets.

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