For a beta 1 release, breath taking is what probably describes it best. I actually got giddy when Windows Vista logged me into to the desktop for the first time and I saw a dialogue with transparent borders popped up. You definitely get a feel of where Microsoft is heading with Windows when you see the desktop. The clarity is apparent through its simplicity. Big, bold and rich icons with vibrant colours deliver a soothing accent that speaks ease of use when it comes to Windows Vista. Again, for a beta 1 release I have to say Microsoft has made some definite progress, which will surely continue until RTM. You begin to see the innovation when you start interacting with Windows Vista.
Click the start button; there is a new element and approach to using it. The new search box feature allows you to filter down to common Windows Components and installed applications scattered throughout the operating without the need to click. The All Programs sub menu has also taken a drastic change for the better. Gone is the cascading menu which is best known in Windows of past. Instead, users are treated to a hierarchical Windows Explorer view of the start menu programs. This at first seems a little out of touch with traditional approaches to accessing applications and it takes a little getting accustomed to, but I say again it’s for the better. The old sub menus were a nightmare when you had too many programs installed. The new all programs menu can also be a nightmare too when too many programs are installed. But with the new search box and explorer view, it lessens the need to “dig”.
Security is a strong point in Windows Vista beta 1, although some of it is not enabled by default, this will certainly change by beta 2. A new security feature called User Access Protection (UAP) enables a lock on administrative features throughout the OS, making it much more difficult for users to mess up areas of the operating system that are vulnerable to attack or user accidents. Whether it’s Device Manager, Windows, System/System 32 folders or changing account settings. Limited account users can benefit from this very much, by getting more flexibility when it comes to doing common task such as setting date and time, installing common applications or changing your account password. For computers in public places I consider this beneficial and it provides a better user experience when using the operating system that’s less cumbersome and annoying. Basically, there is no excuse for running as Administrator.
The Vista UI has not been finalized, and what you see now is just scratching the surface. Beta 2 is expected to blow our pants off. But from my experience with the beta 1 release, it’s already doing just that. Transparent window borders in Vista are rather inspiring. Prior to the release of beta 1, transparent borders to me, seemed rather annoying and looked like it had a tendency for wrong clicks and selection. But it’s not that way at all and the Windows Team has ensured that the Desktop Window Manager effect does not confuse users while interacting with Windows. When windows are layered upon each other, the foreground window will blur the windows beneath which will prevent things such as text and border titles from being jumbled up and become difficult to decipher. In fact when windows are layered over one another, the title border of a window will provide an outer glow effect around the text making it visible and very easy to see, basically, no deciphering needed.
As for explorer, it’s gotten an evolutionary change for the time being, but I expect to see more in beta 2. Windows such as Computer, Documents, and Music share a different color properties bar, Computer – Blue, Documents – Green, Music – Red, and Pictures – Orange. It makes the interface more compelling and rich to the user navigating through these aspects of the user interface. There has also been some renovation through out the explorer window. The explorer toolbars (some disabled by default) and Task Pane links are now placed at the top. At the bottom, you have the Properties Bar, which contains Meta info about a file, whether it is a document, photo or audio file. There is no need to right click and choose properties to edit this, its right there when you select it. Its also dynamic, depending on the file selected it changes its options. An audio file will receive a rating feature for example; a document will get an author/keywords feature, in the case of photos, its keywords also.
All of this is what I call positive user experience, and definitely giving the user more control and a better view on their information. Better organization capabilities also help to make better ways of searching for data. And that’s one of the great new things in Vista that is very essential. Each explorer window contains a search box, which adds an amazing filtering capability down to the file you might be looking for. For Office documents, it searches within the file using the new Windows Indexer. Another thing I want to expound on is views; Live Icons is a feature I have been waiting to see in Windows for a long time now, it’s finally here! Users are able to see an actual replica of the first page of a Word document or presentation in explorer window (only if the user enables a preview of it from the document properties). Hopefully this will be turned on by default when Office is installed on Windows Vista in beta 2; features like these make finding what you want when you want quicker and easier. You can also scale these icons up to a large size to see lots more information (this is where Avalon comes in), its just cool!
Virtual Folders is a great new feature, which utilizes Meta-Data to make access to information throughout the system seamless. The Documents, Photos & Video and Music links on the Start Menu are actually Virtual Folders. They link to all the files, photos, videos and music on the system to their respective folders. Users can also create their own Virtual folders and save them and they will automatically update themselves. To learn more about Virtual Folders, read the Paul Thurrott review here. Speech recognition is plain awesome in Vista. I was messing with it with a small amount of training and I was so surprised and impressed by its response, by the time beta 2 is made available I should be using it full time. Commands is also another great text to speech feature that allows you to navigate throughout the interface using speech, no need for clicking when you can easily say it. Yes, there are a few glitches and lags when using the program but that’s expected in a beta, anyway I see excellent innovation here and hope it continues, by the time Vista hits RTM the mouse and keyboard should go the way of the Dodo (high expectations here).
The Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons are oh so elegant. Looking at them in prior builds I always thought, too small. But they are actually bigger and easily seen even when transparent, they scale to different hues depending on where the window is located on the screen. Another cool effect has to be when the mouse pointer hovers over them, they glow, Blue for Minimize, Blue for Maximize and Red for Close, I think Microsoft should change the Maximize to the color Green.
I must remind you, Beta 1 is specifically an IT Professional and Developer release. Yes, cosmetic bugs and other minor ones are expected to be in there. But some of the fundamental features that should be harnessed from this release are the pillars that makes it what it is, Windows Presentation Foundation and Windows Communication Foundation, formerly Indigo and Avalon respectively. Beta 1 should really be a guideline for these target audiences, whether it’s making your application compatible or designing Vista based applications and adhering to the interface guidelines. More information is expected to be revealed about these target audiences at the Professional Developers Conference 2005 (PDC 2005), where attendees will get a deep view on some of the core technologies in Vista and other aspects of the Windows Vista Ecosystem, Wave, devices and applications.
What can I say about Internet Explorer 7? It finally has tabs and its way better than MSN Desktop Search Toolbar. The integration is superb and more natural when using it, there are still a few usability kinks I would like to see go but I suspect you will see that happen in beta 2. The biggest feature really has to be RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which makes subscribing to your favorite websites a synch! But I personally do not use it; I just don’t get the big deal about it. When you visit a website that supports RSS, an orange button lights up on the toolbar signifying that the website can be subscribed to. Overall, IE7 is good and it will get better and will probably stop the growth of FireFox that is currently at 75 million users and growing. Outlook Express is very much the same, version 6, but it has one feature that I can’t live without, which is the new filtering search box which makes finding e-mail or newsgroup post 1,2,3, its fun to watch what you want appear as you begin to enter a few letters in the search box. Search in Windows Vista is definitely a big deal, its everywhere, it’s powerful and it works.
Requirements and performance on Vista is too early to define and should be muted. But based on my own testing, its super on my Dell Dimension 8300 purchased in March of 2004. I receive the full fidelity with it, Glass windows – great performance, it’s even faster than XP, but that is of course expected with any clean install of an OS. On my laptop it’s also surprisingly fast. My experience with prior builds such as 4074 on my Dell c840 purchased in September of 2003 was horribly miserable and pathetic. I expected a similar experience with build 5112, but none of that has happened. I am running it on 256MBs of RAM, 2 GHz P4 M and it’s quite fast, I would it’s similar to running a XP system for over a year. The laptop has also been defaulted to the Aero Express UI, which is not bad, but its not glass, bummer! My laptops card didn’t make the requirement for Glass (nVidia Geforce to Go 440, 32MBs), but its nice though that Vista installed the supplemental driver for it, which was the case for the desktop machine, oh by the way, the Desktop is a 3.2Ghz, 512MBs of RAM, nVidia Geforce FX 5200, 128MBs onboard memory). Right now, it’s not impossible for the latest video to not support Vista and Glass effect, manufacturers such as nVidia and ATI need to write a LDDM Driver (Longhorn Display Driver Model) to support the card.
The Windows Vista install uses up to 4.51GBs of hard disk space, which should change by beta 2 since the build supports some sort of underlying compiled code that packs the extra weight. Administrative features like Event Viewer and Scheduled Task have improved to provide a more detailed approach when getting system information on devices and software applications gone awry. Control Panel is also much nicer with the new category view, it’s even easier to navigate and find the applet you want faster. The Classic Control Panel View we have known since like Windows 95 is still around, so no need to worry, they didn’t drop it. Networking is still not there yet, that should be resolved in beta 2. Backup looks like it has some potential, for now its known as Safe Docs (Beta). It provides a wizard based approach with a scheduling backup page and support for more back up options, whether it is a network location or backup media. Hibernation is very much improved in beta 1; resume time is about 2 seconds on my laptop, now that’s really fast.
Primary testing was done using Windows Vista Professional x86; I have not gotten a chance to sample the x64 edition. Both look identical just like Windows XP Professional x64 is to XP Professional x86 today. The hope for Windows Vista x64 though is to have seamless hardware support superior to x86 today, since the majority of most PC’s shipping in 2006 will be 64-bit enabled. As for SKU’s, its just Professional x86 and x64 for beta 1, the final ones won’t be revealed until RTM, but Vista MCE was revealed in a session notes expected at PDC 2005. Also, at the recent Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting, an Enterprise Edition of Vista was discussed. So SKU’s seem to be a big deal in the Vista wave.
There is so much more to be discussed but I can’t do it all at once and will write down stuff that interest me over the life of the beta. Microsoft has really made the extra effort to make this a high performance; stable release of the product and it will continue that tradition until it is finalized. Beta 2 should present what everyone really wants to see and it will come in time. When I compare Beta 1 of Windows XP to Beta 1 of Windows Vista, I say Microsoft has come through on this one and I feel energized for beta 2. For now, lets be patient and closely watch this exciting event that has been in progress since 2001.