Last week, Microsoft released its Windows Vista February 2006 community technology preview (CTP) on MSDN for beta testers, partners and developers.

Redmond has announced that the release is “feature complete”, meaning that the set of features found within the CTP will match those in the final release version. I’ve been playing with build 5308 for a few days, and things are starting to come together. Visual effects look great, and the admittedly basic driver set is working. Though Explorer crashes quite regularly, it has so far managed to restart itself each time.

With several months before a final version will hit the shelves, Microsoft has released this as a beta 2 -Enterprise CTP”, pitched squarely at corporate customers. Microsoft is actively suggesting that companies begin testing with this version in readiness for a final release, and a consumer CTP is due out in the next couple of months.

The OS is slated to be launched in the second half of 2006 – in time for Christmas – which underscores Microsoft’s focus on the consumer market. With WinFS shoved back into a future product and Longhorn Server not due for a while, I question how many companies are going to ditch XP in favour of Vista on the desktop until a server version is released.

Some of the cooler features – like the WinFS file system – have been stripped out to make the anticipated shipping date, and the company has been trying to recruit developers to get behind the upcoming technology since its initial demo at the 2003 Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in LA. Microsoft is trying to drive demand at the corporate end of the market, but Vista – with its pretty graphics and consumer-friendly feature set – will be more appealing to Mums and Dads than IT managers… At least until it forms part of a complete operating environment covering both desktop and server.