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Windows Vista Beta 2 Up Close and Personal

by Wei-Meng Lee

Last week, Microsoft released the Beta 2 of Windows Vista. This beta comes a bit closer to what the real thing will eventually look like. In this article, I bring you a quick overview of some of the features available in this new beta release.

Installation Woes

Before I discuss the new features available in the latest release of Windows Vista Beta 2, I will share some of my installation experiences.

I first tried to install Windows Vista Beta 2 on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005. I mounted the .iso image as a virtual DVD drive and reached the point where I was asked to enter the product key. For this beta, there are four different versions of Vista that you can install:

  • Windows Vista Business Beta 2
  • Windows Vista CTP Builds
  • Windows Vista Home Basic Beta 2
  • Windows Vista Home Premium Beta 2
  • Windows Vista Ultimate Beta 2

The version that is installed is dependent on which product key (obtainable from MSDN if you are a subscriber) you enter. However, I could not get past this stage; the product keys I entered were not recognizable and there were some file-loading problems. Finally, I resorted to installing Windows Vista Beta 2 on a notebook with a fresh hard disk. This time, it installed nicely and worked the first time around. For this article, I installed the Windows Vista Ultimate Beta 2.

However, I could not connect to my wireless network. No matter how hard I tried, it just stubbornly refused to connect. Frustrated, I gave up and got connected using an Ethernet cable. (Note: I'm not the only one to experience this; many beta testers have had the same woes.)

Figure 1 shows Windows Vista Beta 2 up and running.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Windows Vista Beta 2 up and running

Improved User Interface

In this beta of Windows Vista, the user interface has markedly improved and reflects how much effort Microsoft is putting into enhancing Windows usability.

Start Menu

The Start menu is one of the causes of frustration among Windows users. To launch a program from the Start menu, you have to click through several levels of menu. And how many times have you tried to click on a desired menu item, only to have the entire menu collapse unexpectedly?

In Windows Vista Beta 2, the Start menu is much more streamlined than the current versions of Windows. There is no more "Run..." option, in place of it is the new Search textbox (see left of Figure 2). You can type the commands that you want to execute here and Windows Vista will automatically launch them (if the application/command can be found). As you type, the menu above the textbox will change dynamically to match the string entered (see middle of Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2. The much improved Start menu

To find your regular list of programs, click on All Programs. In place of a nested menu tree, you will find a tree view display of all the applications. You can expand and collapse folders (see right of Figure 2) and you do not have to worry about the collapsing floating menus anymore.

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