Yesterday I was one of the happy few who was in time to download the pre-RC1 build 5536 of Windows Vista. Microsoft limited the number of downloads to 100,000.
I installed the build on two different computers: on my desktop PC at home and on a machine at work that we use to test our application on Windows Media Center. To my surprise, my almost three year old PC at home gets a higher Windows Vista performance rating than the brand new Shuttle PC at work with a high-end ATI Radeon video card. This was due to the poor hard disk performance of the Shuttle PC.
The installation experience with Windows Vista was the smoothest I had so far. In the past I installed over five different builds, starting with the alpha version of Longhorn distributed at PDC03.
This time I installed Windows Vista from a DVD on a freshly formatted partition in just over half an hour. Most hardware was autodetected. Unfortunately Windows Vista did not automically locate drivers for my SoundBlaster Audigy 2 sound card. But Creative released a beta version of their drivers on their website that work in build 5536.
Vista looks to be shaping up quite nicely. At least judging by the number of bugs I encountered. The UI still confuses me from time to time, but I better get used to it because Microsoft has run out of time to fix that. For instance, I seem to forget the place where I can add and remove Windows components, like IIS 7.0. And I forget how to show the dialog box in the Explorer to enable/disable the showing of registered file extensions. You have to press the Alt key to show the otherwise hidden menu bar with File Edit View Options etc. in Windows Explorer.
Windows Media Center is improving compared to previous builds, but it still has its problems.
I have used it with a dual monitor setup and both screens flash on and off up to three times when opening and closing the Windows Media Center shell. Even if all the Media Center action takes place in only one screen. Minimizing and maximizing playing videos inside the WMC shell is not as smooth as it should be. You often briefly encounter ghost images from the previous moment in time that you changed the viewing mode.
I dislike the fact it is hard to see which display element has the focus in the Vista Media Center. Elements with the focus hardly stand out on the background. In our Media Center application it is especially hard to see if the custom or shared viewport has the focus because we have a dark blue background. It only gets a very subtle white glow effect. This is much better in the XP Media Center Edition: it uses a green border on the viewports. BTW: you can control the focus color for your own display elements (we use orange) in a hosted HTML application, but unfortunately you still cannot control this for the viewports in Windows Vista.
The weirdest bug I encountered was when the WMC shell was running full screen on one monitor while the other was showing the regular Windows Vista desktop. The mouse cursor was only visible in the WMC shell and not at all on the monitor showing the desktop. I had to close the WMC shell to be able to use the mouse again on that monitor.