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Visual Tour: Windows Vista Begins To Get Real

Originally Published in Desktop Pipeline

Microsoft delivered the December CTP (Community Technology Preview) beta -- Build 5270 of Windows Vista -- on December 19, 2005. The company held a brief press conference with little fanfare. The list of new features it presented is, overall, not impressive. But when you sit down and use this build, what becomes immediately clear is that literally hundreds of little things about this version of Vista are much closer to final than in any previous build. And for the first time in about year, Microsoft is describing the OS's look and feel by the codename Aero — a sign that the user-interface work is gelling. The personality of this product is beginning to emerge.

Build 5270 is the first version of Windows Vista that feels usable.
(Click image to enlarge and to see the Image Gallery.)

That's apparent in the new setup routine which, while still unfinished, has gotten a complete makeover. It now asks you the minimum number of questions, getting all the information it needs up front, and then runs on its own, including restarts, without any need for you to hang around. In build 5270, the setup runtime is a tad shorter in duration than the previous build's, but still longer than XP's installation.

A host of other little things almost subliminally altered my sense of Vista (for the good) in this build. Once the operating system was up and running, the first thing I noticed was the new, sculpted "porthole" Start button, whose curved top pops out of the taskbar. The right side of the Start menu contains items like Computer, Network, Control Panel, Printers, Favorites, and so on. Nothing new there. But as I rolled my mouse pointer over these items, a large 3D icon poked out of the top of the Start menu. I can hear some of you groaning about how much system overhead these graphical niceties are going to require, but that's the best part: The extra detail and imagery is fast and appears to be effortless for the OS.

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