Windows Vista Beta 1's new Aero Glass effect desktop, showing the Computer folder (previously called My Computer).
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Overall, Beta 1 is being billed by Microsoft as a plumbing/IT-oriented release, without many of the final end-user features. This story covers new aspects of Windows Vista Beta 1 that are usable, at least partly. But you should know there are several other features described by Microsoft that I haven't found a way to get at. For example, there's a new Startup Repair Tool that sounds like it might be a reworking of the Recovery Console. And apparently, Microsoft is adding diagnostic tools to aid recovery in error situations.
There are also anti-malware features baked into Windows Vista that are based on Microsoft AntiSpyware, as well as other protective mechanisms, that you can't see in Beta 1. For example, during Windows upgrade installations, the Windows setup routine will scan the computer for malware before initiating the installation. But since you can't perform a Windows upgrade installation, there's no way to see the new malware scan. Windows Firewall will finally protect against both outbound and inbound threats in Vista, but no user interface for that protection has been added in Beta 1.
Other invisible-to-Beta 1 improvements include reliability claims, such as detection and warning in advance of pending failures. Microsoft hopes to be able to warn users of a pending hard drive crash about 24 hours in advance to give people a chance to back up their data. The software giant also expects to reduce negative events like application restarts, hangs, crashes, and system reboots; and improve that perennial favorite, performance when starting up, waking from hibernation, and responding to user actions. All these things, and more, will have to wait for examinations of later prerelease versions of Windows Vista.
It should go without saying that, in Beta 1, neither performance nor stability improvements are at all evident. In particular, Vista Beta 1 is less reliable than Windows XP. The areas that I've experienced the most difficulty with are the Windows Explorer and using the Network tool to access other computers on a peer network. Microsoft is still in the early phases of development, though, and this is par for the course with a Beta 1 offering. I'm withholding my assessment of performance and reliability improvements until the late prerelease and shipping versions of the Windows Vista code. So should you.