REDMOND, Wash. - Microsoft Corp. released the first major test version of the Windows Vista operating system on Wednesday, giving a limited number of programmers and technology professionals the opportunity to test drive the highly awaited - and much delayed - program.
The "Beta 1" of Windows Vista, formerly code-named Longhorn, was being delivered to more than 10,000 developers and others who will test the software and provide feedback. It's the successor to Windows XP, which launched in October 2001.
The beta version does not have all the features that will be in the final product scheduled to hit store shelves in late 2006. Rather, it focuses on fundamentals such as security and overall manageability.
It includes new user account protection so that users are given only the privileges required to do their work. This mirrors a similar security scheme used by Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac OS X and the Linux operating system.
The beta also includes data protection technology that is expected to reduce the risk that data can be viewed by unauthorized users - even if it's on a stolen or lost laptop. The technology relies on encryption keys stored in a specialized chip.
It also ships with Internet Explorer 7 - an update to Microsoft's ubiquitous Web browser that will include protection from malicious Web sites and viruses.
Vista also comes with an outgoing firewall, as well as incoming filtering. Windows XP and Service Pack 2, a major security upgrade released last summer, only have in incoming firewall.
Microsoft also said the test version includes numerous performance improvements, including faster startup and an improved "sleep" state that combines Windows XP's standby and hibernate modes.
Eventually, Vista's features will include better ways to visualize data, such as seeing through windows that are stacked atop each other, more natural file organization and faster searching. Microsoft said Beta 1 includes an early look at some of those new designs.
The next beta of Windows Vista is scheduled to be released later this year. Microsoft plans to make that version available to a much wider audience.
Wednesday's release actually arrived slightly earlier than originally expected. When the Vista name was announced last week, the company said the beta would ship by Aug. 3.
But the final version has repeatedly missed deadlines. The successor to Windows XP was originally scheduled to ship in 2004 - a target that also was pushed back to 2005 and, now, 2006.