During the last week of August, I downloaded the pre-RC1 build of Windows Vista and discovered that Microsoft's developers had been very busy since the last build. While Microsoft had stated earlier in the month that there wouldn't be any interim releases prior to the much regaled RC1 release, I now see the wisdom of the decision of a pre RC1 build. Now, don't get me wrong, 5536 is indeed a great build. However, I see that they've made so many improvements, both on the surface and under the hood, that they wanted to give the hard core testers an opportunity to put this version of the operating system through the ringer before they slap the official RC1 moniker on the DVD and send it out to millions of users all over the world.
An improved installation experience
Once I downloaded the ISO image and burned it into a DVD, I put the disk into my Windows Vista test system and let Setup do its thing. Installation was a fairly quick procedure compared to some of the earlier builds. In fact, it took about 55 minutes from start to finish to perform a clean install, along with saving data files from the previous installation, on my system. However, I've heard other testers boast turnaround times of 15 to 20 minutes, which I suppose is possible on beefier systems and without the added time required for saving data.
In addition to the time improvement, Setup's user interface is more streamlined and easier to work with—it looks nicer too. While the first part of the installation consists of some pretty standard stuff, I was impressed with the fact that the last thing that Setup does before turning the reins over is run the Performance Rating Tool. This last step is nice because it uses the data it collects about your system's hardware capability to configure your system for optimal performance. To keep you amused while the test is running, Setup displays a series of teasers touting some of the new features in the operating system.
The Welcome screen
By now you've heard that the Welcome screen is loaded with links to the Windows Live features, including Windows Live OneCare, which essentially slips Microsoft's antivirus service into the operating system. I'll move right to the performance rating data section, which I've written about several times in the Windows Vista Report. In earlier builds, this rating was actually called Windows System Performance Rating. However, it's now been through marketing department and is now called the Windows Experience Index.
As you may remember from my previous coverage of this topic, my test system, which consists of an AMD Athlon 64 3400+ CPU, an ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics system with 128 MB of shared memory, and 1GB of RAM, scored a Windows System Performance Rating of 2. Well, I'm happy to report that while the naming scheme has changed, the rating system is consistent and my system still has a number 2 rating.
As I mentioned the majority of the improvements in this build appear to be under the hood since this is the best performing version of Windows Vista that I've seen so far. The system boots up faster, applications load faster, switching between running applications is more fluid and responsive.
The latter performance enhancement is especially visible with the new Flip 3D button on the Quick Launch toolbar. You just click the button and the open windows immediately assume the Flip 3D position. You can then easily cycle through the windows using the mouse wheel or any of the arrow keys on your keyboard.
Also, the operating system's User Account Control system has been scaled back so much that you don't seem to be as busy responding to its warning dialog box as in previous builds. The UACs still pop up in crucial places and many are now prefaced with the shield icon so that you know they're coming.
All the new Search features in Windows Vista, the Start menu's Start Search, Windows Explorer Search box, and Search Folders, now appear to be fully functional and are much more rapid. In previous versions, some of the search features worked, some didn't work at all, and some didn't work consistently.
Putting the system to sleep as well as waking it up are both quick and painless operations. I think that you can attribute some of the improvements here to better developed display drivers.
There are many more improvements in this version of Windows Vista. However, since this is a Pre-RC1 release rather than the real thing, I think that it's best that I not go overboard. However, I must admit that based on what I've experienced so far this is a really nice indication of what we'll be seeing in RC1.
In the meantime, if you have comments or information to share about the Windows Vista's Pre-RC1 release, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.