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Microsoft unveils latest Vista beta

Feb 27, 20064 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Microsoft last week highlighted the first feature-complete beta release of its Vista client operating system with a new set of deployment tools designed to help corporate users more easily deploy and maintain the desktop software.

The Community Technology Preview (CTP), as the Vista betas are called, was the first targeted specifically at corporate users. It now includes the complete set of operating system deployment tools, including new imaging, distribution and installation tools.

“For Microsoft to get customers to move onto the most current product, they have to make migration easier and have a lot less touch required on the part of IT managers,” says Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. He says deployments of new operating systems to existing hardware are too hard for users, who typically wait for hardware refresh cycles.

The CTP is the fourth release since September. This is the earliest Microsoft has ever released a feature-complete beta in any operating system development cycle, and the earliest it has made deployment and installation tools available. Vista is expected to ship by year-end.

This February release includes the User State Migration Tool 3.0, which has full encryption capabilities and unattended install, upgrades to the Microsoft Management Console 3.0, enhancements to Group Policy, and event and logging features. The beta also includes a new Task Scheduler and is the first release of Vista’s Sidebar, which lets users link to mini-programs called gadgets.

Microsoft had planned to release a CTP every month starting in September, but skipped December, pushing the release out to February as part of what would normally be called Beta 2. The February CTP is expected to reach 500,000 testers and is available to Microsoft Developer Network and TechNet subscribers, as well as those in Microsoft’s early adopter programs. The next version is scheduled to arrive before the end of June.

February’s highlight is the complete version of the Windows Automated Installation Kit, a collection of deployment tools. The kit has been included in previous CTPs, but containing only the XImage tool, which is used to capture and edit Windows Imaging Files (WIM).

The February CTP adds the System Image Manager and Windows Deployment Services, which are tools to create and edit operating system images and deploy them to desktops. It also includes Windows Preinstallation Environment 2.0, a foundation tool for aiding in the final deployment of the operation system.

The tools also include Business Desktop Deployment, best practices guidance for rolling out Vista. In April, Microsoft is expected to add the Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0.

“If we do really well this time around [with Vista tools], then the next time people don’t blink about deployment,” says Manu Namboodiri, senior product manager, Windows Client division.

Deployment has proven to be a costly proposition for users, and Microsoft is feeling the heat.

“We have had customers spend $1,000 per desktop to deploy the operating system, and we want to come down to the sub-$100 level,” Namboodiri says. “We made the decision with Vista that we would provide deployment tools as early in the process as possible.”

The vendor is hoping the deployment and installation tools let users reduce the number and size of images, which is designed to make patching and servicing more efficient. Microsoft says companies can spend upwards of $100,000 creating and maintaining a single image.

The new tools complement two features of Vista: its modular design, which simplifies adding optional components to the operating system, and WIM, a file-based imaging format that replaces the less flexible sector-based imaging.

Despite being feature-complete, company officials say Vista could still be subject to some gyrations.

“We still take feedback, and there are still design change requests that are put in, and it is possible to see some features come and go,” says Mike Burk, product manager in the Windows Client division.