Over the weekend, Windows Vista build 5231 leaked to the Web, offering users a glance at some upcoming features that Microsoft will be adding to future Community Technical Preview (CTP) and beta releases. Build 5231 is highly unstable--barely usable, in fact--but an interesting preview of things to come.
As you can see for yourself on the build 5231 screenshot gallery that's been posted to the SuperSite for Windows, build 5231 visually resembles the September 2005 CTP (build 5219) and doesn't yet include any of the major user interface enhancements that Microsoft is expecting to ship in Beta 2 (due December 7). New features include the promised Internet Explorer (IE) 7 thumbnail grouping, which shows you at-a-glance views of each open IE tab; a new Network Center control panel that replaces the previous mishmash of networking utilities; a new System Properties dialog, the new volume control (which I previewed over a year ago on the SuperSite; see URL below); and Windows Media Player (WMP 11).
WMP 11 is particularly interesting and is arguably the only major new feature in this build: It includes a simplified, iTunes-like user interface, a visual Library view that is clearly modeled on Windows Vista's new shell visualization and organization features, and the Forward and Back buttons that have come to typify Vista applications. Though this build doesn't hint at many of the WMP 11 features to come, I'm told to expect massive performance improvements and visual niceties such as control bar translucency.
Microsoft expects to ship the next CTP release to testers in mid-October. Windows Vista is still on track for a late 2006 public release, I'm told.