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Windows Vista Beta 2: Great Search, Improved Security, Hardware Snags

When Microsoft offered up its February CTP (Community Technology Preview) of Windows Vista, the company said that the build was nearly feature-complete. (We covered those features in our review Vista Visuals: Windows Sidebar, Gadgets, Media Player 11, And More.) There were still some missing pieces, however. This time, the just-released Beta 2 of Microsoft Vista goes a long way toward showing off what the final operating system will look like -- and in most respects, it's a winner.

New In Windows Vista Beta 2

•  Better User Account Control

•  Search Is Finally Here

•  Improved Firewall, Fit And Finish

•  There's Still Work To Be Done

The much-ballyhooed search feature is turned on for the first time, and it's just about everything that Microsoft promised. The universally disliked User Account Control (UAC) has received significant work, and is finally usable, helping to lead the way to a more secure operating system. And overall, there's a better organization and "fit and finish" to this beta than previous Vista versions.

Still to be resolved, though, are a variety of hardware compatibility issues that could delay the Vista launch date. And although the Windows Firewall has been improved, users may have trouble finding its advanced controls.

Much-Improved User Account Control

The most reviled feature of earlier Vista builds, User Account Control (UAC), has thankfully been reined in with Beta 2. For the first time, it is actually useful, and goes some way toward solving a security problem that has long bedeviled Windows.

Most people run previous Windows versions in administrator mode, because unless you do, you are blocked from performing many system operations and simple tweaks. But running Windows as an administrator brings with it a host of security problems -- notably, if someone malicious gets control of your PC either remotely or physically when you're logged in as an administrator, they have the run of your entire system and can do serious damage. In addition, if inexperienced users run as administrators, they can accidentally wreak havoc on the system by making harmful system changes.

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