Microsoft last week released a beta 1 version of Windows Vista, the biggest update of its operating system since the release of Windows XP and a milestone in its Trustworthy Computing security initiative.
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The company said Windows Vista beta 1, which was previously called Longhorn, would be delivered to more than 10,000 testers.
New features in the operating system are designed to improve security in corporate, mobile and roaming environments, as well as reduce the total cost of ownership of PCs through simplified management, increased automation of tasks and improved diagnostics.
Security improvements include hard disc encryption, secure storage of encryption keys using version 1.2 of the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and further features to lock down end-user access to applications where required by administrators.
To run Windows Vista beta 1, users will need PCs configured with a minimum of 512Mbytes of memory and a graphics card that supports DirectX 9.0.
Gartner analyst Michael Silver said IT departments that already use Windows XP will not need to thoroughly test Windows Vista beta 1, but advised those running Windows 2000 Professional to begin reviewing application compatibility.
"The OS will likely change significantly between beta 1, beta 2 [expected early in 2006] and the commercial release, expected late in 2006," said Silver.
Users planning to skip Windows XP need to start preparing now, he added.
"After Windows Vista ships, you will have much less time than those running Windows XP to test and deploy the new OS before independent software vendor support starts waning around 2007 and Microsoft ends all bug-fix support in mid-2010.
"Begin talking to the developers of your critical applications and plan on some limited, internal compatibility testing with beta 1."