A number of things have taken place over the past few weeks. Most notable is the leak of a new Windows Vista build, 5231 to the net. The leaked build is different from the one technical testers received in mid October. Build 5231 Win main features numerous improvements to the operating system since the last interim 5219, distributed at the recent PDC 2005. It includes the next version of Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, version 11, with an enhanced user interface that is clean and inviting but also makes navigating through the player a better experience. You can view album art along with all songs in a list view, alphabetically or just simple list, this provides cool visual cues. There is still more to expect from this early introduction of the component and polishing should start appearing in the beta 2 releases.
Many flaws have been fixed such as the Switch user and Screen saver resume crashing. The control panel in 5231 has added a few new items such as, Mobility Center, Network Map, new Volume Control settings and Network Center.
Mobility Center gives a Vista user quick access to some of the basic functionality that mobile users want to use and manage when they are on the go. These include Internal LCD Display, which provides options such as controlling brightness and contrast depending on the types of environment you might be in, whether it is a park, building or other types of surroundings that might affect the output of your laptops display.
Volume Controls in Vista has also had a major update in 5231. Volume per application is probably the most innovative and anticipated feature request and it finally reality. I didn’t play with it much but the idea is really cool, I could control decibel of a song playing in Media Player, while listening to a video on channel9 and control how load a notification for a e-mail message in Outlook 2003 or online contact sign in Messenger should be. A really convenient and flexible feature in the operating system that gives the user more control over how they interact with their computers.
PC Sound was blank on my install, but this obviously gives you access to audio settings, whether it is to control the volume for music, movies or any type of audio based content. Others include Battery power, Wireless Connection, External Display and Sync Manager for other mobile devices such as your PDA or Smart Phone. It is still a work in progress that gives an early glimpse at where the Windows Team is heading with this major release.
Network Center is a complete overhaul of My Network Places or Network in earlier builds of Vista and Longhorn, it is quickly accessible by its monitor icon in the Notification area, a globe will appear on it if you are connected to the Internet. This focuses on the main things associated with networking, whether it is help content, setting up different types of network connections, connecting to different places or computers, devices or simply the Internet. There is also a pane that displays quick links to Computers and network devices, Network map, saved networks, adapters and connections. I guess Network map would be most productive in corporate networks for Administrators or users who want to get a clear view of their network topology, I am just guessing anyway, when I had connected to my network I only saw my PC in it. I also find it strange that it should have its own applet in the Control Panel. I don’t think its necessary since it’s not something the average user might be taking advantage of everyday and it just clutters up the Control Panel in Classic view.
One thing I forgot to mention in Build 5219, was Accounts, the Windows Team is definitely changing around a lot of things in Vista. The bread crumb menus are a new way of navigating through out the user interface and it might seem confusing at first but its actually a really cool, easy and of course quick way of accessing common features you only interact with once in a while. User Accounts shares some similarity with its predecessor in XP. Common links such as Change picture or password are not on the main page, but are accessible through either the User Accounts breadcrumb menu or under Perform Additional Task link.
Security is one of the major works in progress and its obvious by the unstableness of User Access Protection (UAP). It mainly affects accounts created in the Administrator group; the default (root) Administrator account is immune to its protection. If you try to install certain software or hardware, you will get either an error message or prevented from proceeding with installation because it is not approved by the operating system. My “bad” experience with UAP was activation; you cannot activate your installation of Vista with it turned on even if you are in an Administrator account created in the user group. I just activated in the default Administrator account to save time. You can simply turn it off by clicking “Start” > All Programs > Turn UAP Settings On or Off”, then click “Yes”, you will then be asked to log off and log back on for it to take effect. It does not work I notice, I turn off, log off and log back on, but UAP is still on, just one of the many bugs that still need to be fixed. UAP has its advantages though, and provides a more secure way of using Windows without being exposed to malicious software that is becoming more common with the pervasiveness of the Internet.
The General Tab in Vista’s System Properties has gotten a bit of updating, with additional useful content such as System Rating (not fully implemented); I guess this rates your system to make sure its Vista ready. Also you can launch the activation wizard and “change your product key”, now that is cool! Everything else in System Properties is pretty much the same except for the System Protection tab which now allows you to create check points for System Restore, roll back hazardous changes you might have made to the system and back up your data.
Two applications that debuted in Build 5219, Windows Calendar and Digital Library are showing improved features and functionality. Windows Calendar can now add events, with cool features for sharing and subscribing to your calendar or upload to a Web DAV server. Brandon Leblanc has a nice write up about it over at Longhornblogs.com; you can check it out here, worth the read. Digital Library is a nice photo management solution built into Vista that was desperately needed in Windows a long time now. Based up on Microsoft’s commercial offering Digital Image Suite 2006, this express version offers basic but powerful functionality for users who have lots of images stored on their computer. The main interface displays grouped sets of images if you have photos in separate folders.
You can select an image, zoom into it or view a slide show of the group. To take advantage of more features, double click the image and it launches a basic photo editing application (you can also right click an image to access a context menu of basic features such as setting an image as a wallpaper, rotating, publishing as movie and more). You can adjust brightness and contrast; it’s pretty much similar to Office 2003’s Picture Library. Search is also built in WDL; this makes it easy to find photos using Meta data you might have added to the properties of a file such as date taken, key words, camera type and more. You can also tag, print or burn your images to DVD/CD. One thing I would prefer though is to have it launch the editing UI in a Tab instead of a slightly different user interface, it would be much easier I believe going back and forth between image gallery and images you might be editing, simply make it multi-tasking. I think the Windows Team should combine all the functionality in Paint into Digital Image Library, make it a one-stop solution. Overall, it’s a great component; with common functionality most users really need and will be able to take advantage of features such as Rating, Importing your images while having more control through basic photo editing capabilities.
Windows Media Center code named Diamond is in this build 5231, it debuted in 5219, but it’s a rather early preview also and it’s not yet ready. It has a ways to go to be honest, I did not use it much simply because my sound card was not compatible at the time and its slow on my laptop. I kind of understand the layout, but it gets wild at times if you are not careful, I must mention also, I am using this with a mouse and not with appropriate hardware such as a MCE Remote or Keyboard and wide screen Plasma. I believe it definitely works best with a four-way arrow remote button. Music Library is cool though, it shows album art in this horizontal view, very inviting. The colour palette and transitions are rich and lovely and of course it’s just the beginning so there is more to expect by BETA 2.
Windows Movie Maker (Program Files > Movie Maker) is hidden in this release and pretty much the same as it was in previous builds of Vista and Windows XP. I would say though the current version is based upon the Plus! Super Pack version, which includes all of the cool transition effects. One added bonus is the DVD authoring functionality included in this release. I played around with it a bit, but I’m still not a video editing fanatic and I don’t think I’m destined to be the next Spielberg, but its still a good enough solution for many persons who might just want to put together a nice home movie, and with the burn to DVD feature, it only gets a lot better. I would call the current iteration of Movie Maker in 5231 a 2.3 release, there should be more to expect in the 3.0 version in BETA 2.
When testing beta software there are unexpected surprises that come with the territory. Take for instance my Creative Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 (WDW) sound card, installed and worked perfectly in Vista builds 5112 and 5219. That’s not the case with 5231, it just does not install well it does, but reports an error at the end of installation, (the device has been installed but might not function properly, error code 10). I tried an alternative suggested by someone to download the driver from the Creative website, extract the .exe and navigate to the audio/drivers/ctapxx.exe file and launch setup and choose WDW. Well, it installed, but just did not update the system so it could recognize the card. This is just one I have to leave up to Creative to fix and support in the next interim build of Vista or BETA 2. Audio works fine on my laptop, but Media Player 11 slows down the system; I prefer running it on the desktop but no sound. Just one of the sacrifices for the time being
Update: Well, I got the sound card working finally! I did not even need to download any drivers from Creative, my Creative SB Live! 5.1 CD was all I needed. What I did was restart in safe mode, open the CD navigated to Audio\Drivers \ctapxx.exe launch the .exe and voila, the driver updated. It requested a restart and so I did, I also restarted back into safe mode just to make the driver updated the system. I restarted back in normal mode and heard the Windows Start up sound (still the one from XP). I hope this helps anyone who might be running Vista 5231 with Creative SB Live! 5.1 Card.
Installed Programs now works, which is the update to Add/Remove Programs, it’s not fully implemented, to uninstall a Program you have to select it, right click and click “Remove”. It’s still not ironed out, that should be available in BETA 2. Windows Components was not working when I checked it out, so I couldn’t tell if IIS is running in this build, a service called IIS Admin Service is available when I checked Services in Computer Management.
Outlook Express is still at 6.1 so not much to discuss, Windows Mail should appear (maybe) in the next interim or BETA 2. Internet Explorer is progressing nicely, new cool functionality such as Tab Gallery and new tool bar buttons for RSS, Printing all makes it a very convenient browsing experience. I would prefer having some of those tools on the Classic menu bar instead of stealing real estate from the Tabs menu. Speaking of Classic menus, I hope the IE and Windows Team bring it back, people are just accustomed to seeing them and it makes navigating and customizing the UI much easier, especially in Internet Explorer. Active-X Opt In is a new feature in IE 7which gives the user better control over what can be installed on the computer when surfing particular websites that might require certain Active X Controls, no more drive by downloads there. Under Accessories > System Tools, there is a mode available for IE to launch without any Add-On’s, this should provide that extra secure experience users are looking for in the browser.
Internet Explorer 7 is promising to bring a lot of new functionality to the browsing experience in terms of functionality, flexibility and of course, security. With FireFox getting more popular, (100,000,000) million downloads announced recently, the IE Team needs to innovate, and do it real fast. The IE 7 release for Windows XP SP2 should be a stopgap until IE 7 for Vista (integrated) is released expected in spring of 2006. It will include most of the functionality including some of the out of band technologies such as AntiPhising tools released recently for Internet Explorer 6.
There is more to Windows Vista 5231 than what I have discussed here, but I chose to touch on the things I interacted with and what interested me the most. The interface is basically the same as 5219, except for slight changes to elements such as the Close button, which now uses a red-hot orange glow instead of the dead red, it’s very nice. In active windows feature a flat appearance to the Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons, all are nice Visual cues. The Sidebar is still not in this build and probably won’t be available in Vista until BETA 2; check out the Channel9 video here about it. Classic is just the same, although I have noticed something a bit different in this release. If you create a restricted account and enable Windows Classic, all effects turned off with Classic Start Menu, you see a different Classic user interface with a Flat look similar to the Office XP user interface.
I see Build 5231 as an early part of the journey to its final release expected in Q4 of 2006, and there will certainly be bumps along the way. The Windows Team is definitely innovating and it’s apparent in this release of Vista, which means it can only get better. After years of conflicts with this critical release of Windows, its development is finally on solid ground.
* Paul Thurrott Microsoft Windows Vista Build 5231 (CTP 2) Review
* Paul Thurrott Windows Vista Build 5231 CTP 2 Screenshot Gallery 1: Media Center Setup
* Paul Thurrott Windows Vista Build 5231 CTP 2 Screenshot Gallery 2: Windows Media Player 11 (Part 1 & 2)
* Paul Thurrott Windows Vista Build 5231 CTP 2 Screenshot Gallery 4: Internet Explorer 7
Windows Vista 5219 (September CTP) – The Inspection
Windows Vista Beta 1 (Build 5112) – The Inspection
Longhorn Build 5048 – The Inspection
Longhorn – A Very Delicate Subject
The Progress of Windows Longhorn
Longhorn Build 5203 – An Analysis
Vista: A Scenic View Into The Future of Windows