windows vista RC1 available

September 6, 2006

At long last, Microsoft has made available the first release candidate of its long awaited operating system Windows Vista, currently slated for consumer release on January 30, 2007. License keys are only available to members of Microsoft’s Customer Preview Program at the moment, but more keys should be available next week for those wishing to try out the OS on their home PCs (see this page for details). Anyone can download the ISO image files, however, which are sized at 2.6GB for the 32-bit version and 3.7GB for the 64-bit version.

RC1 is the last major milestone in Vista’s development timeline, being feature-complete and ostensibly bearing a strong resemblance to what will become the final release. Testing and debugging will surely continue right up until the “gold master” is pressed, but the interface design and overall user experience are largely fixed now, representing a pleasant evolution from the Beta 2 release which ran more slowly and suffered from several major usability issues. Vista may not ever match Apple’s OS X operating system in elegance or ease of use and may not represent much of an upgrade for average users of its predecessor, but it is shaping up to be a polished release that incorporates a number of important, though in many cases non-obvious, advances.

One easy way to test out Vista is to install it on a virtual machine using a utility such as VMware Workstation. While not inexpensive, this and other products allow you to quickly and easily create a container in which to install and run Vista–or any other OS–without having to worry about partitioning the hard drive or its associated perils. Video acceleration is unavailable under VMware, though, so you won’t be able to see the translucency and nifty effects built into the new Aero interface, but everything else works quite well (if a tad sluggishly).

In other news, Amazon.com recently began taking preorders for the release, with prices ranging from $99 for an upgrade version of Vista Home Basic, roughly equivalent to XP Home Edition, to a whopping $399 for the full version of Vista Ultimate, which combines all of the features of the business and home versions into one package. Of course, most people will be purchasing systems with Vista preinstalled, making the pricing somewhat easier to bear. Still, eager users with Vista-ready machines should start saving their pennies (every little bit helps, you know?).

–D. S. W.

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