Prerelease copies of Windows Vista (formerly code-named Longhorn) have been available for more than a year and a half, and the embryonic OS is on at least its second set of feature revisions. As I write this, Vista is in beta 1. Microsoft released a Developer Preview 2 of the OS at Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005 in September, and a public beta 2 is planned for late 2005. Although nothing slips faster that Microsoft software schedules, Vista is currently scheduled for release in mid-2006. Here's my list of the most significant updates Microsoft has made to Vista.

10. WinFS is out—Like its much-hyped-but-never-shipped predecessor, Cairo, the ambitious and misunderstood WinFS file system won't be included in the initial Vista release. Essentially, WinFS is a database-backed file system that might still appear in a subsequent Windows release.

9. Monad is out—Monad, the long awaited and really cool scripting update for Windows, was also supposed to ship with Vista. Now, however, Monad is on a separate release schedule that inexplicably coincides with the next release of Exchange. If that new schedule somehow makes Monad available for Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000, I'm all for it.

8. The XP code base is out—Like Windows XP 64-bit Edition, the Vista OS is being built on the Windows 2003 code base rather than the older XP code base. In addition to incorporating all of Microsoft's latest updates and security fixes, the Windows 2003 code base gives Vista both 32-bit and 64-bit hardware support right out of the box.

7. Windows Desktop Search is in—Although WinFS is out, tools that enhance local search are still in. However, those search improvements will be implemented through Windows Desktop Search rather than WinFS. Windows Desktop Search lets users locate Outlook and Outlook Express email messages, attachments, and contacts. It also lets you search for content in local documents and files.

6. RSS is in—The inclusion of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) support is a new addition for Vista. RSS is used primarily to pull information from RSS feeds for news sites, blogs, and other Web resources. Designed to make it easy for users to discover, view, and subscribe to RSS feeds, Vista's built-in RSS support will also enable developers to incorporate RSS capabilities into their applications.

5. IE 7.0 is in—Vista will include the latest update for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0. Dramatically improved in response to the popularity of Mozilla's Firefox browser, IE 7.0 will include a tabbed interface, which will let you browse multiple sites concurrently; improved support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); and support for Portable Network Graphics (PNG).

4. Indigo is in—Indigo is essentially a set of Microsoft .NET technologies for building connected systems based on Web services. Because it's built on the Web services framework, Indigo can be used as a basis for cross-platform communications. Indigo will also be made available for Windows 2003 and XP.

3. WinFX is in—WinFX is an object-oriented (OO) API that's built on the Windows .NET Framework. WinFX provides a superset of the current Framework Windows presentation classes and makes creating Windows graphical programs easier than the older Win32 API does.

2. Avalon is in—Avalon is essentially a set of presentation class libraries that are part of WinFX. Avalon enables a new and simplified way of building UIs and uses a new Microsoft-developed markup language code-named XAML (for Extensible Application Markup Language). Like Indigo, Avalon will be made available for Windows 2003 and XP.

1. Aero is in—Every major release of Windows just has to have a new shell. Aero is the code name for Vista's new UI. Not surprisingly, Aero will be dramatically different from the XP interface. The new UI will support 3D graphics, as well as incorporate transparencies, drop shadows, and zooms for an enhanced visual experience.