Windows 7, looking to be one of hottest products of 2009 when it debuts later this year, brings many improvements to the table over Vista. The new OS, while it shares most of its underlying code with Vista, features a richer and much faster user interface and promises better hardware support out of the gate thanks to dedicated efforts by Microsoft's team and hardware partners. The OS will also bring key technologies like multi-touch to the table, and is shaping up to be all that Vista could have been in terms of PR and polish.
However, before the hot new OS can ship to customers, Microsoft needs to prove its systems and ready itself for the massive deployment that a Windows release entails. The critical first step of this process was to release a beta to the general public. Now, Microsoft is readying the first real test of its new update system for Windows 7.
Starting Tuesday, February 24, Microsoft has announced that they will be releasing a series of five test updates to beta users. The updates are available through Windows Update, but will not download automatically, even if Automatic Update is enabled. Instead, Microsoft needs users to volunteer their aid, by volunteering to manually install the updates.
The updates are simply stock system files, which replace the identical system files. Thus the update is simply a dummy test and includes no bug fixes or improvements.
However, in the realm of actual Windows bug fixes and improvements, Microsoft today released the Release Candidate (RC) build of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 (SP2). The RC features 671 hotfixes. It is available, as a standalone installer package or via Windows Update or as a slipstreamed download.
Microsoft is offering the RC version of SP2 to its testers to verify that all the fixes are indeed working and that they do not introduce new problems. It is urging its testers not to suggest new features, explaining that's outside the scope of the current testing.
On the hardware side in Windows Vista, the RC should provides support for VIA's new 64-bit CPU, Bluetooth v2.1 and Windows Connect Now (WCN) Wi-Fi Configuration wireless functionality, faster Wi-Fi resume times after hibernation, and most significantly the ability to record Blu-ray.
On the software/connections side, the SP2 provides faster RSS feeds in the sidebar, Windows Search 4.0, the ability to configure the maximum number of TCP connections.
The service pack is also for Windows Server 2008, and offers the Hyper-V virtualization environment as a free fully integrated feature, with one free daughter OS with Windows Server 2008 Standard, four free licenses with Windows Server 2008 Enterprise, and an unlimited number of free licenses with Windows Server 2008 Datacenter. It also improves the management options in Windows Server 2008 and fixes some licensing key problems.
In short, both for enterprise clients and for consumers, SP2 should bring a number of noteworthy improvements that will improve the Windows experience in little ways. Microsoft has yet to announce the final release date for the production version of SP2.