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Windows Vista Public Release on Tap... But When?

Around the world, millions of eager Windows users waited for the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), held last week in Seattle. Microsoft used WinHEC as the platform for the release of Windows Vista Beta 2, which will eventually be shipped to the public as part of a Customer Preview Program (CPP). A week after Microsoft announced the release of Vista Beta 2, users are still wondering when they can get their hands on it.

The answer is vague. Microsoft will promise to deliver Windows Vista Beta 2 only "in the coming weeks," and the company has yet to announce how it plans to distribute the release to users. I've been told privately that Microsoft plans to distribute Vista Beta 2 to more than 2 million people around the world, although it's unclear whether Microsoft will let users download the release or offer it via DVD.

Whenever and however Vista Beta 2 is distributed, eager users might be in for some nasty surprises. Despite huge reliability gains in pre-Beta 2 builds, Beta 2 has proven to be less than satisfactory on my test systems in the past week, with numerous hang-ups, crashes, and even blue screens. It's unclear what happened, but Microsoft would be smart to quickly issue a more stable post-Beta 2 build to users. If Vista Beta 2 is released to millions of people worldwide in the shape it's in, the outcry will be deafening. Vista Beta 2 isn't an OS that can be used as a day-to-day replacement for Windows XP.

That said, Vista Beta 2 is greatly improved compared to last year's Beta 1 build and the Community Technology Preview (CTP) builds Microsoft issued at the end of 2005. In February 2005, prerelease versions of Vista were deemed "feature complete" and since then, Microsoft has been working on improving the quality, fit, and finish. Hardware and software compatibility have also seen steady improvement.

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