Microsoft Releases December Vista CTP

In a conference call Monday afternoon, Shanen Boettcher of the Windows Client group announced the availability of the December Windows Vista CTP, numbered build 5270. The CTP focuses on improving security, performance and mobility aspects of Microsoft's next Windows release, but still lacks the Sidebar.

The test build is available now to Vista technical beta testers and will show up later today on MSDN and TechNet. Around 500,000 people will be testing the December CTP, which according to Boettcher is, "intended for use by developers and IT pros."

On the security side of things, build 5270 features the newly re-branded Windows Defender, formerly known as AntiSpyware. The malware removal tool is now able to run as a standard user, rather than requiring an administrator account.

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Defender also sports a "redesigned and simplified user interface to fit with the vista theme," says Boettcher.

In order to keep information on a Windows Vista computer from being stolen through USB drives, build 5270 implements a group policy to control removable storage and prevent data leakage. "This features gives IT pros a centralized way to control and block the use of these devices with the machine," said Boettcher.

International Domain Name (IDN) support has also been added to the IE7 build in the December CTP with security in mind. "You'll see the ability here to detect if characters are being used in the URL that are not consistent to the language that the user is set to be running in," explained Boettcher.

Parental controls are now available through the Control Panel or Games Explorer to limit the time children can use a Vista computer and prevent games with certain ESRB ratings from being played. Parents can access a detailed report their children's usage of the system.

Windows Vista's firewall has been bulked up in build 5270 as well. Bi-directional filtering is now supported, along with advanced security features around IPsec, used by corporations with virtual private networks.

Boettcher also revealed in the conference call that the default Off mode in Vista would not shut down the computer entirely. Instead, the system will enter a sleep mode that, after a certain period of time, will roll over into a hibernate mode. This will help systems boot faster and save power, says Boettcher.

A new feature in build 5270 is full hard drive encryption, known as BitLocker. By using a Trusted Platform Module, or TPM, chipset, users can lock down all the data on a system including the operating system and boot sector. The idea is to keep data on stolen laptops from being accessed.

SuperFetch, a Vista feature which speeds up the system by keeping applications used frequently in a memory cache, now supports the use of expandable memory by plugging in USB drives. Jim Allchin demonstrated the SuperFetch technology at the PDC in September.

Not all changes in build 5270 are on the inside, however. Microsoft says it has been making progress with Vista's user interface and the December CTP features new forms of transparency and animations in the UI. "[It's] not done yet, but I think you'll see some great advances," said Boettcher.

The Media Center and Windows Media Player user interfaces have also been tweaked to be more Vista-like. WMP 11 now uses thumbnails to give users a better view of their content.

The Windows Sidebar has still yet to make an appearance in an official Vista build. Microsoft has not yet commented on when the feature would be added, but Boettcher said the company is on track for a feature-complete build of Windows Vista to be ready by early next year.

During a question and answer session, Boettcher hinted that the February CTP is expected to be that release, but Microsoft is providing no official timeframe for the next CTP build or Windows Vista Beta 2.

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