Posted by Yardena Arar
Thursday, June 08, 2006, 11:06 AM (PST)
In a surprise move, Microsoft today made Windows Vista Beta 2 available to pretty much anybody who wants it. If you're interested, head to the Windows Vista Web site. Make sure, however, that you check out system requirements first--they're also on the Windows Vista site.
The beta, available in English, German or Japanese and in both 32- and 64-bit editions, is for Windows Vista Ultimate, the most full-featured version of the OS. The code is available either as a free download of an ISO file (an image of the installation DVD that you must burn onto a blank recordable DVD), or you can get it on DVD, in which case you'll have to pay Microsoft for production, shipping, handling and sales tax (for me in California the total came to $10.85).
If you opt for the ISO download, be prepared to wait: The 32-bit version is a 3.5GB file, the 64-bit version takes up 4.4GB. Microsoft estimates that with a "fast" cable or DSL connection, you're still looking at 4.5 hours to download the 32-bit version and 5.5 hours for the 64-bit edition. Also, a Microsoft spokeswoman sent me e-mail saying demand is already so high that when you try to sign up (which involves filling out a little questionnaire) you might be asked to try again later in the day. But don't dawdle--Microsoft says it's only making the beta available in a "limited quantity," and once the unspecified magic number of orders have been received, no new ones will be accepted.
The beta is being offered under the new Windows Vista Customer Preview Program, and if you get it you'll also get Release Candidate 1 (RC1) when it's ready "later this year," Microsoft says. RC1 is basically the final version of the OS--any changes after that are supposed to be bug fixes only.
Microsoft is urging people thinking of getting the beta to install it only on test machines, and as someone who upgraded from XP to the Vista beta a couple of weeks ago, I have to second the warning. At least a couple of applications I'd been using regularly, Adobe's Photoshop Elements 4 and Rhapsody, no longer work thanks to compatibility issues.
And if you do install the beta, I'd be cautious about installing Computer Associates' beta eTrust EZ Antivirus software for Vista: It made my PC basically unusable last week because of constant freezes and crashes. On the other hand, if you're upgrading from XP, you'll probably want to uninstall your current AV software, which could leave you vulnerable to attacks. (For the time being, I'm counting on PC World's corporate defenses to keep me safe.)
If you get the Vista beta, let us know how it works (or not) for you. Microsoft says it wants your feedback and so do we.