Microsoft releases Windows Vista, IE 7 for XP betas

As expected, Microsoft Corp. will make available the first beta of its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system (OS) on Wednesday.

At the same time, the Redmond, Washington-based software giant will release a beta of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP that adds a promised antiphishing tool to the browser, said Greg Sullivan, group product manager in Microsoft's Windows client group. The tool sends out a pop-up window warning a user if he or she navigates to a Web site that exhibits behavior typical of phishing sites, he said. It also blocks access to currently recognized phishing sites, warning users that the sites are "known to be engaged in illegal activity," Sullivan said.

The beta version of IE 7 included with the Windows Vista beta does not include the antiphishing tool, but the finished Vista OS will ship with it, he added.

On Wednesday, Windows Vista beta code will be released into the hands of about 10,000 technical beta participants, which include customers, partners, home users and subscribers of Microsoft Developer Network and TechNet, Sullivan said.

Microsoft also is releasing the first beta of Windows Server, which still holds the code name Longhorn, to a limited number of participants in the technical beta program. Participants include hardware manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers, system builders and ISVs. The Longhorn version of Windows Server is expected to be generally available in 2007, following the planned release of Windows Vista in the second half of 2006.

Last Friday, Microsoft officially named the client version of Longhorn "Windows Vista," and said the beta of the product would be available by Aug. 3. Wednesday's release of the beta is a bit ahead of that schedule, but in line with the company's previously stated plans to release the first beta of the operating system during the summer season in the U.S., Sullivan said.

Sullivan acknowledged that the first beta of Windows Vista does not have many of the flashy new changes that end users will be interested in, such as the next-generation user interface (UI) promised in Windows Vista. The new UI design is on tap for the second beta, which does not have an official release time frame because Microsoft will wait until it receives feedback on the first beta to announce that, he said.

Microsoft also will release another build of Windows Vista to developers at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC), code that will likely be the result of what Microsoft internally calls integrated developer workstation (IDW) releases will be fashioned into a so-called community technical preview, Sullivan said.

"We do daily builds of the OS and these IDW builds are developed and more broadly delivered to a set of partners," he said. "We are committing to more broadly distribute interim builds between betas. Something like that will be out at the PDC."

Security features will be a major highlight of the first Windows Vista beta release, Sullivan said. Expected enhancements in Windows Vista Beta 1 include user account protection, which allows Windows administrators set limited access rights for different users, he said. It also warns administrators when potentially malicious code is trying to enter the system.

Another security feature in the beta is network access protection, a feature that quarantines computers that could have malware or other unauthorized software from a network until patches clearing the offending code can be applied, he said. The Windows Vista Beta 1 also will include Windows Services Hardening, a feature that locks down an OS service that has been exploited by a virus or a worm so it does not infect other services in the system, Sullivan said.

Multitiered data protection software that leverages the new Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 hardware chipset also is present in the beta. This feature ensures that malicious code hasn't entered a system so early in a computer's boot process that steps can't be taken to thwart the code, Sullivan said.

"Some people have figured out that if they can get software in a system before [defense] mechanisms turn up and latch on really early, they can infect the system," he said. "This feature will look for [intrusions] very early in the [start-up] process."

TPM is a chipset in PCs and laptops that is supported by a host of hardware vendors, such as IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Toshiba Corp. The chipset encrypts anything stored on a computer so the files can only be read by someone with credentials to the chipset.

In addition to security enhancements, Windows Vista Beta 1 also includes the first betas of Windows Presentation Foundation, formerly code-named Avalon, and Windows Communication Foundation, formerly code-named Indigo, Sullivan said. These technologies are part of the WinFX programming model in Windows Vista. Indigo is intended to simplify the development of secure, reliable Web services, while Avalon is Windows Vista's presentation subsystem and user interface development platform.

The Windows Vista beta also features new performance enhancements of the OS. One of them is a new sleep mode that combines features of the current "hibernate" state of the OS with those of "standby" mode, Sullivan said.

In other words, in the new sleep mode, the OS can be put in a standby state quickly and have operations on the computer saved to a disk as they are in the current stand-by mode, but with a much lower power consumption that is characteristic of the current hibernate mode, he said. Windows' current standby mode may allow a user to close down and start up a computer quickly, but burns up a significant amount of battery life while the OS is running in it, Sullivan said.

Microsoft is considering replacing the current hibernate mode with this new sleep state in the finished version of the OS, Sullivan said, but no final decisions have been made.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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