Activity around Windows Vista has kicked up quite a bit, with the first Release Candidate (RC1) hitting the mass market later this week and Vista pricing being officially unveiled.
Beta 2 was widely panned after its release last June, with many testers feeling there was no chance Microsoft would meet its year-end deadline.
Fast forward three months and more than 100,000 bug reports later. RC1 is in considerably better shape, according to testers.
"It's a big step up from Beta 2," said Jason Cross, senior technology analyst for ExtremeTech.com. "Performance is much better, it installs in about a half hour. A lot of fit and finish work has been done."
"Beta 2 was a big disappointment in many ways," Paul Thurrott, editor of WinSuperSite.com, told internetnews.com. "I don't think it was the right thing to hand out to the public. A lot of people had a bad reaction to it. RC1 is stable, reliable, and performance is good. It will allow people to focus on what's different with XP."
Thurrott has posted two in-depth reviews on the best and worst of RC1, and Cross has done his own evaluation.
Both agree Vista is close to completion but still needs work. Cross faults the driver situation the most.
"The driver situation is disappointing," he said. "A lot of companies don't have drivers yet. This is a very different OS from XP. People need to do public beta tests of their drivers."
The driver interface in Vista has been completely changed from XP, and 64-bit Windows requires all drivers to be signed. Cross suspects a lot of third-party vendors dawdled, and said there's no excuse for being late, especially with Microsoft's strict new driver evaluation policy.
"Microsoft has been giving out copies of Vista since PDC three years ago just for companies to build drivers. I think with a lot of them they started on drivers 6 months ago and realized there were a lot more changes than they thought."
Thurrott doesn't like the Sidebar and User Access Control (UAC), even though he said both are improved. Sidebar is so bloated it doubles the boot time, he said, and requires many steps to remove it from the system.
"What it is now is a toy. It's Active Desktop 2.0, and you have to go through a horrific number of steps to exorcise this thing from your system. It's incredible. It has no business coming on by default," said Thurrott.
As for the UAC, he said it's one of those things where Microsoft is finally doing the right thing with security but it's done so poorly it will turn people off. UAC is tacked on top of Vista instead of being integrated into the operating system.
UAC drove early testers crazy with its constant prompting for approval. RC1 is better but still too annoying, and Thurrott thinks people will just turn it off. "It's too bad, because Windows needs something like UAC," he said.
He did have high praise for a feature of Vista that hasn't seen much attention, ReadyBoost. A USB Flash drive can be used as a cache of sorts in a low memory machine instead of a slower hard drive.
The caveat is that it's very picky about which Flash drives it will support. The drive must support 2.5MB/sec throughput for 4K random reads and 1.75MB/sec throughput for 512K random writes. These flash or thumb drives don't usually come with read/write specs.
Both Thurrott and Cross said they've tested a number of Flash drives from their collection and very few work. They found it best suited for laptops or systems with less than 1GB of memory, where the operating system had to swap to the hard disk more. On a system with 2GB or more of RAM, ReadyBoost offered no measureable improvement.
Still, RC1 gives them both more confidence in the product than they previously had. "Looking at Beta 2 I thought man there's no way they're going to make it," said Cross. "Looking at RC1, now that they aren't adding features and just squashing bugs and working out kinks, I think they are going to make their date."
.Net 3.0 Also Reaches RC Status
Vista isn't the only Microsoft technology that has reached Release Candidate condition. The .NET Framework 3.0 has also reached the final leg of development, although unlike Vista, anyone can download it.
.NET 3.0 was formerly known as WinFX. It combines the four technologies in WinFX with .NET 2.0. The four technologies that comprise .NET 3.0 are Windows Presentation Foundation, Windows Communication Foundation, Windows Workflow Foundation, and Windows CardSpace, formerly Infocard.
Microsoft plans to ship .NET Framework 3.0 with Vista, but it will be backwards compatible with Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.
Vista Pricing Official
The Vista pricing turns out to be dead on with what Amazon revealed. The online retailer spilled the beans a week early when it posted prices for advanced orders of the new operating system.
The Windows Vista Enterprise edition is only available to Microsoft Volume License customers, so it has no retail price. Windows Vista Business, which fills the slot for Windows XP Professional, will retail for $299.00 for the full version and $199 for the upgrade.
For the home user, there are three choices. The stripped-down Vista Home Basic will sell for $199 for the full package or $99 for the upgrade. Vista Home Premium, the closest thing to Windows XP Home Edition, will be $239.00 for the full version or $159.00 for the upgrade.
Finally, there's Vista Ultimate, which combines the features of Home Premium and Business, for a hefty $399.00 for the full edition or $259.00 for the upgrade.
RC1 was released to technical customers on TechNet last Friday, but Microsoft plans to offer it to a wider audience later this week through its Vista Customer Preview Program (CPP), which was used to test Beta 2. Microsoft plans to make RC1 available to more than five million customers for testing.