Vista Beta 2, up close and personal

Vista Beta 2, up close and personal

Summary: In the comments to posts I’ve written over the past few weeks, one question comes up again and again: What’s really in Windows Vista? Why should I care? To help answer those questions, I’ve put together a gallery of 30 screen shots digging deep into Vista Beta 2.

TOPICS: Windows

Up in Redmond, Microsoft developers proudly talk of dogfooding the software they write. Running beta software is the only way to learn what works and what doesn’t. A copy of Windows Vista running on a test machine in the corner isn’t likely to get a serious workout. To find the pain points – another popular Microsoft expression – you have to run that beta code on the machine you use every day.

Start menu - Click to enlarge

In that same spirit, I’ve spent the last three months running beta versions of Windows Vista on the PCs I use for everyday work. February and March were exasperating. April’s release was noticeably better, and the Beta 2 preview – Build 5381, released to testers in early May – has been running flawlessly on my notebook for nearly three weeks.

Yesterday, at WinHEC, Bill Gates officially unveiled Windows Vista Beta 2, which means you’ll get a chance to see for youself what all the fuss is about. (The public download should be available within a few weeks – sign up here to reserve your copy.)

In the comments to posts I’ve written over the past few weeks, one question comes up again and again: What’s really in Windows Vista? Why should I care?

To help answer that question, I’ve put together a gallery of 30 screen shots digging deep into Vista Beta 2. You’ve probably seen Vista screenshot galleries on other sites, most shot in a hurry by someone sprinting to meet a deadline. I took a little longer to assemble this collection so you can get a closer look at Vista’s workings instead of just a series of setup screens and wallpaper shots.

The gallery is divided into six sections:

The Vista interface

You’ve heard all about the Aero interface and Glass effects, but did you know you can select from eight colors and vary the transparency of the see through window elements?There’s no denying that the Vista interface is better looking than the bright blue XP Luna look, but after working with it for a few months I’ve grown to appreciate how it works, too. The redesigned Start menu, taskbar, and Control Panel – all featured in the image gallery – are easier to use than their XP predecessors.

File management

In earlier Vista builds, Windows Explorer was, to put it charitably, a mess. The worst offender was the misguided attempt to make all folders virtual – and a series of bugs and missing features made those builds painful to work with. In Beta 2, Windows Explorer appears to be working as it was designed. It’s radically different from XP’s Explorer, which means you can expect some confusion when you first sit down with it. A Search box is embedded in the top right corner of every Explorer window, powered by a fully customizable index. Oh, and Vista has a Backup program you might actually use.


Security is one of the big selling points of Vista. One look at the new Security Center and you’ll see why. Where XP has three entries in its Security Center, Vista has six, including the most controversial feature in the OS: User Account Control. (See my series on UAC – Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, for more details.) There’s no question that the new security features work as intended. The real test of Vista will be whether Windows users can be persuaded to keep UAC and other potentially disruptive features enabled.

Performance and reliability

Vista is packed with a bunch of features that have hardly received any publicity. You’ve probably seen the hokey Performance Rating dialog box, which measures your PC’s resources and assigns a 1–5 rating. But I’ll bet you haven’t seen the Performance Diagnostic Console, which is like Task Manager’s Performance tab on steroids, or the new Reliability Monitor, which sifts through event logs and helps you track down the cause of crashes and slowdowns.

On the web

If you’ve used Internet Explorer 7 on XP, you already know about tabbed browsing and IE’s support for RSS feeds. What’s different in Vista? IE7 runs in Protected Mode, a low-rights security scheme that lets your standard user account browse as usual without giving spyware and malware access to the rest of the system. There’s also an update to Outlook Express called Windows Mail, which is still a work in progress, and a suprisingly useful Calendar program.


And then there’s networking. In Vista, Microsoft has basically replaced every bit of network plumbing and built a whole new set of interfaces. The new Network Center can be confusing, especially if you already know your way around XP’s networking model.

What’s not in this image gallery? You won’t find any of the features aimed at portable computers until my notebook gets an upgrade later this week. And the extensive array of digital media features, including Windows Media Player 11 and Media Center, deserve their own gallery, Finally, next week I’ll look at some of the advanced features that IT pros will find intriguing.

 Meanwhile, if you have any Vista-related questions, post them in the Talkback section here. I'll try to get to them in a follow-up post.

Topic: Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Vista for users

    In XP there is a way to turn all this useless stuff off (not refering to security) is there a way to do it in Vista. I use my system to work and I watch TV ... I don't need or want it to look good .. I need it to perform.
    • reminds me of the GL screen savers in NT.

      Back in the day, we had a PDC / BDC pair that, in the middle of the day, started bogging down.

      Come to find out, my junior system admin wiz kid had turned on the OpenGL screen savers on the servers. These servers had base Mach64 vid cards (i.e. no 3D accell on them) and the machines were busily using all their CPU cycles for the screen savers.

      God that guy was an idiot. And so was whoever shipped Windows NT server with OpenGL screen savers...

      And so now, you can have the same kind of problem happen just by opening a window and dragging it around the screen on your server. yeah! MS does it again.
      • This is not a server

        MS didn't do it again.
  • Vistas look best from a distance.

    Great run down on what to expect from VISTA. I however, can't see myself running the next microsoft OS until at least its 2nd service pack of critical updates. I've lived, learned, and been burned too many times to get excited over anything Billy G. has to offer. (See: XBox 360, MS Bob, MS Plus!, "Restore Points", Win2K, Media Player Licensing, and *ahem*... "WIZARDS")

    I'm sure I'll have it on 50% of my machines by 2010 tho.
    • the urge to play with fire

      although i too am a strong proponent of the wait for the first service pack or two; VISTA seems to offer solutions to problems and inconveniences i have been only subliminally aware of (until now) in addition to facilities that i ve been strongly wanting, some since Win95. i'm going to be sorely tempted.
    • Same can be said

      I bet you'd go out and buy a 2007 vehicle in the summer of 2006 (always threw me how they did years cars today...anyways) and not complain that it's "first generation", but accept a few design flaws as part of the process of designing the next big thing.
      • Sorry... Same cannot be said.

        Funny you choose the car example, because like the business that I am in (used computer parts sales) I apply the same logoc to my car purchase. I'll save WAY OVER 50% of the sticker price by letting someone else Lease it for 3 years and get the kinks worked out for me ;) For me, a car is transportation first, and a status symbol second. And as for my PC, I still use a good ol' CRT for graphic design, and gaming. Altho, I have a used View Sonic LCD for a secondary monitor. As for being on the cutting edge of overrated, mediocre OS releases... it's a nice place to read about, but I wouldn't neccessarily want to be the one there doing it! ...Sorry, Ed :P
        • thanks

          for sharing your opinion. What's your name and occupation so we can rate it's relevance to anything in the universe.
  • D?j? vu

    hummOShum...X... humm humm....
    Sorry, I'm a bit sick
  • anti-virus

    Great report. What are you using for anti-virus protection while you run the Beta?
  • er.... OSX clone?

    Boy, would you look at all these OSX features that have suddenly appeared in Vista... Expose, search features, etc. Apple should start patenting some of their software ideas. Of course, OSX has had these features for over a year, and 10.5 will probably beat Vista out the dor anyways, especially if creative has things their way.
    • oh please

      What would you have MS do? Leave the computer industry (i'm positive that's your answer). Apple has some of these features in their OS and that's great, and I'm sure there are features that both companies (and linux, what about Lindows?) take/steal/borrow and make better in their release.

      MS studies what is winning for the Mac OS, then builds their version and tries to make it better.

      If you don't like it, please don't buy it.

      Someone will like it, it will sell millions of copies it will be in more homes than any other operating system, it will obviously be doing something right.

      If one car company makes a safety feature and 5 years later another car company incorporates it and (hopefully) improves the design, will you trash that company for ripping off another? Will you complain there is no innovation?
      • meh

        yeah i agree (actualy the linux comunity is rather busy copying these same ideas from osx, i wonder who'll make the first stable release) the anoying thing is that microsoft will call all these things new and revolutionary, and the average consumer, who hasn't seen a mac since the apple 2, will lap it up. that's the diference, the foss comunity just says: yeah, we want these fetures and we're copying them, deal with it. microsoft dresses it up as entirely new.
        • almost

          MS may call it new, which it is, but to say they will call it revolutionary is just your own rhetoric. If you can't take the heat, find a different career perhaps? Apple has had the same opportunity as MS from the very start to be the PC in every home. Why aren't they? Way too proprietary for starters and just not smart in the ways of business. Bush league players.
          Hell, they are now selling .99 songs to the mindless who have no idea that when they install the iTunes disk they are going to have about 100MB or memory in use at all times. They no nothing about writing software. VS.NET, SQL Server ent. edition and IIS combined don't use as much RAM is the mindless iTunes software. Between that the heat sink glue being applied w/ a trowel, I'm wondering what is it that OSx users are so religiously loyal about? They have very minimal business exposure and only used for very niche work. Why own one? They don't give you the tools you need to do productive work day in and day out. How many AppleTalk networks have you bumped into lately? Linux has ripped off windows from the start. They are trying so hard to emulate Windows down to being a clone and their zealots have the nerve to say MS never innovates. Linux has never innovated one thing. IT's a unix derivitive and nothing more with many Windows features.
          • Actually Linux

            is a clone of Minix, this is true. And it's a mix of Macinstosh and Windows along with it's own innovations and implementations. You are very vehement about attempting to disparge Linux, which is rather ironic since your user name here is Linux backwards.

            So the question I and I am sure others here would like to have honestly answered is, do you work for Microsoft?
            Linux Advocate
          • Liux is NOT a Clone of Minix

            If Linux is a clone of Minix, then Windows XP is a clone of CPM (actually, the latter is closer to the truth).

            gnu/linux is an implementation of UNIX pretty much from scratch. (much of it based on the POSIX documentation), with a bunch of other stuff added in.
      • At MS, Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Innovation?

        "MS studies what is winning for the Mac OS, then builds their version and tries to make it better."

        Or tries to make it a all, for that matter (e.g. security). As the Bott said -- It may be touch and go whether users will choke on the UAC feature.
    • copying


      If the computer industry didn?t copy good ideas from others where would we be today?
      Didn?t Apple get the mouse and its User Interface from Xerox? Isn?t that where the mouse is from?
      Would we have true multitasking in any of the current OS?s?

      Many Companies clone, this is known. The question is how well Vista will implement these features? If it?s better than OSX, then Apple has a challenge ahead of them to innovate, if not they are sitting pretty and Microsoft will have to have another look at what they are doing.
    • Actually...

      MS purchased the rights for Expose in their next OS...
      Matt Ridge
      • Purchased the rights from who?

        Purchased the rights from who? Apple? That seems HIGHLY unlikely to me. Why Apple would sell the rights to thier technology to thier competition?