Exclusive: Microsoft to Ship Interim Windows Vista Build to Testers

According to my sources, Microsoft will soon ship an unexpected "refresh build" of Windows Vista to its technical beta testers and some corporate customers. Previously, the company had been shipping Community Technology Preview (CTP) builds of Vista to its testers and other audiences, including MSDN subscribers, only every month or two. I'm told that the refresh build is build 5342 and will require different product keys than the previous CTP.

"Microsoft is considering releasing updated Windows Vista code to TAP \[Technology Adoption Program\] customers in the coming weeks," a Microsoft representative confirmed. "Microsoft regularly provides our TAP customers with regular Windows Vista code releases and this upcoming code release is consistent with our past engagement with this group. The Windows Vista code will not be a CTP release. As previously announced, Microsoft expects the next CTP will conclude the Beta 2 process and we are on track to deliver the next CTP in the second quarter of this year. We have no information to share on the features or timing of the TAP release or the next CTP release and will follow up when we have more to share."

The Microsoft representative also told me that the company would ship an update to the Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview code next week at the Mix '06 trade show. The IE 7 Beta 1 Preview was released in late January.

It's unclear why Microsoft has chosen to ship a Vista refresh build at this time, although I'm told the company is using it as a testing board for the extensive feedback it's gotten since the last CTP, which was issued in February. According to my sources, the refresh build will not meet CTP quality measurements and will ship only in the Vista Ultimate edition, for both 32-bit and 64-bit systems.

Microsoft originally expected to ship a CTP build in April, although that release could be pushed back until May, according to sources. That CTP should be made available to the public via Web downloads.

Microsoft Moves Xbox 360 into Children's Market

This week, in a move designed to attract the type of video gaming audience that would more typically choose a Nintendo device, Microsoft revealed the first in a series of Xbox 360 game titles that are aimed at children. Dubbed "Viva Piñata" (seriously), the game will be accompanied by a children's animated TV show, music, and more traditional toys. Microsoft calls it a "product collection."

"We're doing a fabulous job with first-person shooters \[and\] driving games," says Peter Moore, the corporate vice president of the Interactive Entertainment Business, Entertainment and Devices Division, at Microsoft. "What we've not done well with in the first generation is to give a 10-year-old a real reason to buy an Xbox. That's what this is about."

The characters in Viva Piñata are animals inspired by piñatas. According to Microsoft, the Xbox 360 game will debut in time for the 2006 holiday season and will be developed by Rare, the company behind "Perfect Dark Zero" and "Kameo," two hit Xbox 360 launch titles. The TV show based on the product collection and other merchandise will begin appearing throughout this year.