Exclusive: Windows Vista Interim Build, Beta 2 Update

Last week, I reported that Microsoft was preparing a Windows Vista interim build to deliver to beta testers and Technology Adoption Program (TAP) partners. That build has been delayed, but it's still coming: Microsoft now plans to ship Vista build 5365.8.060419-1800 today.

Curiously, after posting my report last week, several other Web sites posted information about an interim build, including screenshots purporting to be of Vista build 5361. I don't have any information regarding the validity of the reports, but I can tell you that build 5365 is still being delivered today. This will be the last interim build before Beta 2.

"We are considering releasing updated Windows Vista code to Windows Vista Technical Beta program participants as well as select TAP customers, but do not have a date to share at this time," a Microsoft representative confirmed. "As you know, in addition to the CTPs, we sometimes provide a select group of testers with current prerelease versions of Windows Vista based on their feedback and testing needs. These builds are not CTPs. As we have said, the next CTP will conclude the Beta 2 process and will be called Beta 2. We are on track to deliver Beta 2 in the second quarter of this year."

According to my sources, build 5365 will include major changes to the User Account Protection (UAP) feature. UAP is now linked to something called "Secure Desktop," which is what the Ctrl+Alt+Del keyboard shortcut will trigger as well. Microsoft changed the behavior of UAP to bypass a potential flaw in the original implementation. It's unclear whether such a major change will cause any further delays in Vista's schedule.

Other new features in build 5365 include major changes to Windows XP Backup and the Windows Recovery environment. The virtual folders and saved searches functionality are further deemphasized and drop almost all support for keywords.

Microsoft is also preparing to finalize Vista Beta 2 (currently set to be build 5372) on May 22, two days earlier than scheduled. Microsoft is planning to distribute Beta 2 at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), which is being held the same week in Seattle.

For more information about Vista, check out the conclusion to my Vista February CTP/Build 5342 review, "Where Vista Fails," in which I point out the various broken promises and missing features that make Vista a disappointing upgrade.

Short Takes

Something astonishing happens to me almost every time I go on a trip: In the days leading up to the trip, I begin preparing my laptop with all the applications and data I'll need. Then, the day before the trip--usually, late the night before I leave--something will go wrong with my laptop. This just happened. While I was preparing for a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, this week, my laptop began acting strangely. Outlook would hang when I tried to import my desktop's system mail file and FrontPage would crash when I tried to load the local version of my Web site. I considered taking a second computer just in case, but then I started reading about Microsoft's buggy MS06-015 patch. Could it be? Sure enough, I had loaded HP scanner drivers on the system, and removing MS06-015 fixed the problem. So I guess I have mixed feelings about this: I was actually hit by a buggy Microsoft patch, which I don't appreciate, but at least I was able to get it fixed before I left. And sure enough, the laptop has worked great on the road.

Today, Microsoft will ship an interim build of Windows Vista, build 5365.8.060419-1800. It will go out to beta testers and Technology Adoption Program (TAP) partners. When I first wrote about build 5365 last week, a bout of stupidity ensued. First, a site published a bunch of screenshots allegedly of build 5361. Then, another site claimed to have news about an interim build that was shipping "any day now" (ahem). So the Windows enthusiast sites all linked to those stories instead of to the WinInfo article that was out hours (or in the second case, days) earlier. OK, fine. But then people started claiming that build 5365 wasn't coming and that the build 5361 screenshots from the first site were fake. (Which they could be I guess. I don't know.) Meanwhile, I've got people emailing me wondering why I'd publish a story about a build that I clearly made up. Because, you know, that's the kind of thing I do. Folks, if I publish a build number that comes from sources within Microsoft, it's real. If the build doesn't happen, as in the case of build 5365 last weekend, it's because something went wrong internally at Microsoft. This week, build 5365 will finally be released. I don't invent information and I guess I sort of resent the accusation.

Speaking of Vista, my "When Vista Fails" article on the SuperSite for Windows has generated a lot of discussion inside and outside of Microsoft. This might sound disingenuous, but I'm almost always surprised when that happens. I looked at this article as nothing more than the fifth and long overdue final part of my Vista build 5308/5342 review. I wanted to finish it before the next interim build hit, but I figured out last week I'd have to incorporate build 5365 into the review as well. Most of the feedback has been highly complimentary, but a few people have wondered whether I purposefully wrote something antagonistic in a bid to attract readers. I wish I had that much forethought, but the truth is I almost never correctly gauge what it is that people want to see. If I had planned this as some explosive exposé, I guess I would have published it separately from the review. Maybe I'm overthinking this.

Microsoft Ships First SQL Server 2005 Service Pack

This week, Microsoft shipped SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 1 (SP1), the company's first major update to its latest database server. That's a pretty impressive time-to-market accomplishment too, considering how long SQL Server 2005 took to release. SP1 includes a "production ready" version of Database Mirroring, the new SQL Server Management Studio Express (SSMSE), and numerous other updates. Visit the Microsoft Web site for more information and the free SP1 download. http://www.microsoft.com/sql/

Microsoft Preps Live Drive Service

Microsoft is working on an Internet-based virtual hard drive hosting service called Windows Live Drive, which will compete with Google's GDrive, according to Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie. Windows Live Drive will offer users "huge amounts of online storage" that the company says will be accessible from anywhere, on any device. That's not very hyperbolic compared to Google's description of GDrive, which promises "infinite storage and infinite bandwidth." Now that's a promise.

Apple Financials Betray Softening of iPod, Mac Sales

This week, Apple released its quarterly earnings figures and the news wasn't good. Although profits were up 41 percent or $410 million, year-over-year for the quarter ending March 31, Apple's revenues fell short of analyst expectations. More important, iPod and Mac sales growth has fallen dramatically. This quarter, iPod sales grew 61 percent, but that pales in comparison to the 558 percent growth the company experienced last year. iPod sales were also lower than expected: Apple shipped 8.5 million iPods in the first quarter, not the more than 9 million expected. Mac sales were even less impressive: Year-over-year, Mac sales grew only 4 percent to 1.11 million units. That's slower growth than the PC industry as a whole, and much lower than the 43 percent gain the company made the same quarter last year. Have Apple's products leveled out? It's starting to look that way.

Opera 9 Beta Ships

This week, Opera Software announced the first public beta of Opera 9, its upcoming Web browser. Opera 9 features Widgets, which are mini-applications that can run alongside the browser, and support for the BitTorrent peer-to-peer downloading technology. Opera 9 also includes a content blocker for removing ads and images, customizable integrated search functionality, and thumbnail previews of pages and videos hidden in various browser tabs. Opera 9 will be finalized later this year, Opera Software says. Visit the Opera Web site for the free download of Opera 9 Beta. http://www.opera.com/index.dml

No Surprise, But Visual Studio Express Editions Are Free Forever

When Microsoft announced the availability of its free Visual Studio 2005 Express editions last November, the company said that the editions would be free to customers for the first year. Surprise! They're really free forever! What, you're not surprised? Well, fine then. This week Microsoft revealed what everyone pretty much knew to begin with: The Visual Studio 2005 Express editions--including Visual Web Developer Express, Visual Basic Express, Visual C# Express, Visual C++ Express, and Visual J# Express--are free with no time limit. Excited? If you haven't grabbed the one you want yet, head on over to the Visual Studio Web site. But there's no rush, they'll be free forever. http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/

Microsoft to Re-release Buggy Patch

Last week's buggy Microsoft patch (MS06-015) will be replaced, Microsoft says. The company plans to ship a new version of the security patch by next week to help customers who have experienced problems (I'm one of them; see WinInfo Blog for details). Users with HP scanner drivers, certain NVIDIA video cards, and even Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) users have been having all kinds of problems since MS06-015 was released. Although Microsoft initially downplayed the problem, the company has finally owned up to the fact that it completely botched this one. Microsoft says a new version of the patch is expected to ship Tuesday, April 25, via Windows Update, Microsoft Update, and Automatic Updates.

Microsoft Denied IBM Documentation in EU Case

A third US judge has denied Microsoft access to competitor documentation, which was part of the software giant's quest to get around a European Union (EU) decision. In New York, Judge Colleen McMahon denied Microsoft's request for a subpoena of IBM documentation, calling the request a "blatant end run" around the EU's legal authority. Microsoft was previously denied similar requests in Massachusetts and California. Nice try, guys.

eBay Considers Microsoft-Yahoo! Partnership to Fend Off Google Juggernaut

Nothing brings erstwhile competitors together faster than a new threat. Months ago, eBay began reaching out to Microsoft and Yahoo! to find an ally who will help the online auction company compete with Google. eBay and Google were one-time allies themselves, but eBay became alarmed over the years as Google edged closer and closer to eBay's business model by launching a classified advertising service that competes directly with eBay's online auction service. I'm surprised it's taken this long, but the computing world is finally coming around to the notion that Google is, indeed, the new Microsoft: Google wants a piece of every conceivable market, and it's not afraid to step on its partners to achieve its goals. My guess is that Google will soon be one of the most distrusted companies on Earth.