Microsoft has made Windows Vista Beta 2 available free to the public through its Customer Preview Program. I recently downloaded the almost 3.5 GB ISO in about an hour, burned it to a DVD and installed Windows Vista on a brand new HP dc7600c workstation (P4 3.2 GHz, 2 GB RAM, Intel 82945G display adapter). I have to say first of all, I am really stoked--even though Vista is far from ready. The setup was very simplified and was all graphical using the mouse, allowing you to run Windows Memory Diagnostic and other useful apps along the way.
The biggest concerns I had were with device drivers (I couldn't get sound to work, nor could I find Vista drivers for my sound device on HP's web site), and old program compatibilities. I installed Symantec Antivirus version 9.0.2 and unfortunately it would not work. Since Windows Vista was rewritten, it is significantly different under-the-hood from other versions of Windows, like XP. Therefore, certain programs, such as Symantec Antivirus, which are embedded so deep in the operating system will undoubtedly need to be upgraded to a Vista-compatible version (like version 10). This is why there are beta releases--so folks can get their hands on it and develop software and drivers for it.
I will no doubt want to wait until I get an upgraded version of Symantec Antivirus before I install Windows Vista on my main machine (luckily this was a test machine). Either that or try Microsoft's new Windows OneCare security service.
Overall, the system performed fairly decent with screens fading in and out nicely and windows animating as I minimized and restored them. The on-board graphics hardware on the computer I used wasn't top-of-the line (it's only a business-class desktop machine), and I think that I would have seen a significant increase in performance if I would have used a more powerful graphics card. Vista gave this machine a performance rating of 3, for what it's worth.
The old classic games like Solitaire and Minesweeper are redesigned, and there are some new games as well. The Paint program also now allows you to crop images (finally!). There are many other noteworthy changes and additions to Vista--too many to mention here.
I usually like to navigate through files in "details" view using the keyboard, and I found that this didn't work quite the same as it does in Windows XP as I found myself reaching for the mouse more often than I wanted to. The interface is a little different, but still very usable. It will take a little getting used to, at least for me. But overall I found my way around and I was pleased with the look and feel of Vista and I'm looking forward to future releases.