As you’ve probably heard by now, Microsoft has expanded its
Windows Vista beta test with the Community Technical Preview (CTP) program. The
CTP addition to the Windows Vista beta program is designed as an avenue for
Microsoft to officially provide monthly updates to the beta. The first version,
dubbed the September CTP, was released at Microsoft’s Professional Developers
Conference and carried a build number of 5219. (Just to give you some
perspective, the official July Beta 1 release carried a build number of 5112.)

In keeping with the promise of a monthly update, early last
week Microsoft released the October CTP with a build number of 5231. While
there are many enhancements that indicate the overall development progress, the
October CTP really provides us with some significant advances in the operating
system’s collaboration, desktop management and mobility features as well as a
taste of some of the new end-user features that are planned for the actual
release version of Windows Vista. There are also a number of new Internet
Explorer 7 features.

As Windows Vista has evolved from Beta 1 via the CTP
program, one of the key areas that I’ve been paying attention to is the Control
Panel as this continues to be the central location for specialized tools that
are used to configure the way the operating system looks and behaves. Now, like
Windows XP, Windows Vista’s Control Panel by default displays the Category View
and also allows you to toggle to a Classic View, as shown in Figure A, which
contains a host of new tools as well all the ones you’ve come to know and love
in Windows XP. The one new tool that I’ll focus on here is called the Network
Center.

Figure A

The Control Panel in the October CTP of Windows Vista shows off a host of
new and familiar tools in the Classic View.

The central networking tool

The reason that I’m zeroing in on the Network
Center, as shown in Figure B, is that
as it’s name implies, Microsoft is finally providing a
single point of access for all of the most common networking needs. Every
aspect of networking, from installing to configuring to managing, that in the
current Windows XP operating system requires that you use several different
tools, can now all be
done in the Network Center. And, there are several new features that
really stand out.

Figure B

The Network Center
provides you with an all-in-one tool for all of your networking needs.

For example, the Network Center sports access to an advanced
network diagnostics tool that can quickly analyze connectivity and network
access issues. To do so, network diagnostics will automatically run a set of troubleshooting
tools that test all elements of the network stack and provide a thorough
diagnosis of connectivity issues. This tool can then automatically resolve many
of the problems it finds or at least provide easy-to-understand solutions.
Furthermore, the network diagnostics data is saved in an event log to assist
support personnel in resolving and tracking issues.

Not only does the Network Center provide an all-in-one tool
for managing, configuring and troubleshooting the networking components running
on a particular computer, but it also replaces Windows XP’s My Network Places
as a means of viewing, accessing, and interacting with other computers on the
network.

I definitely will want to keep an eye on this new tool to
see what else Microsoft will add to it in the coming months.

Other noteworthy networking features

In addition to the new Network
Center, the October CTP of Windows
Vista revealed several other noteworthy networking features. First, this
version revealed an improved TCP/IP stack, which highlights some of the
improvements in the unified IPv4/IPv6 framework as well as provides you with
more control over network bindings.

Second, there are new simplified file and folder sharing
capabilities. Now, in addition to sharing entire folders, you can simply share
individual files. This new feature will definitely make it easier and safer for
users in workgroup networks, but it is also designed for use in domain networks
as it is also group-policy-enabled for administrative control.

Conclusion

As I close, it’s important that I remind you that you have
to take this information with a grain of salt, considering the fact that
Windows Vista’s release date is over a year a way and the operating system,
while more solidified than it has been prior to this point in time, is still in
a state of flux

As always, if you have comments or information to share about
Windows Vista’s new Network Center or other networking features, please take a
moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.