My unhappy reaction to the Windows Hardware Engineering (WinHEC) 2005 build of Longhorn is now, shall we say, infamous. I wasn't trying to make a statement per se. But I did refer to the next major version of Windows as a "train wreck," so I guess it makes sense that people would latch onto that statement.

A little work on Microsoft's behalf could have prevented this problem. For example, a pre-WinHEC briefing in which the expectations of me and other Windows enthusiasts were suitably moderated would have been a great start. As it was, I went into WinHEC with high hopes, especially given the news that we would receive our first Longhorn build in a full year.

As I noted in my review of Longhorn build 5048 (see my review), however, my hopes were ill-placed. Build 5048 was a major step back from the previous build we had received (4074), from functional and features standpoints.

OK, that was three months ago. A few weeks ago, Microsoft briefed me about Windows Vista Beta 1, suitably setting my expectations. And Beta 1--and the pre-Beta 1 builds I've used over the past weeks--are much, much more impressive than Build 5048. Microsoft may have made some boneheaded mistakes in the past, but they're clearly learning.

On a much grander scale, Longhorn is finally improving again. Beta 1 doesn't feature the end-user functionality that will make this release compelling to actual human beings, but it does include enough new technology to stir my technology-loving heart. I still have my fears for Longhorn--er ah, Windows Vista--but before we get to that, let's take a little tour through the Beta 1 experience.

Installation

Compared to the installation routine for Windows XP, Windows Vista Beta 1's Setup has been drastically simplified. I installed the beta in two ways on a number of different machines: As a clean install on a new partition, starting from Windows XP (see my screenshot gallery) and as a clean install as the only OS on the machine, booting from the Setup DVD (see my screenshot gallery). And yes, you read that right: Windows Vista 1 Beta 1, in either x86 or x64 form, comes only on DVD. In both cases, Setup only prompts you for a few simple items and then does its thing. An upgrade install (where you upgrade from XP to Vista) does not appear to be available in Beta 1.

In both types of installations, Setup prompts you for your product key, presents the End User License Agreement (EULA), and then lets you choose the installation type (Custom, in this case). Then, you can choose the install partition and the computer name. In the install partition phase (Figure), you can perform tasks such as creating, deleting, and formatting partitions as well. Then, Vista installs, rebooting the system once during the install and once after it's completed.

If you boot the system with the Windows Vista Beta 1 CD, you'll notice a slight change in the language used to prompt you to hit any key to start Setup: It says you can boot "from CD or DVD" and not just from CD like previous Windows versions.

Continue to Part 2...