Microsoft started work on their plans for Windows Vista (“Longhorn”) in 2001, prior to the release of Windows XP. It was originally expected to ship sometime late in 2003 as a minor step between Windows XP (codenamed “Whistler”) and “Blackcomb” (now known as Windows “Vienna”). Gradually, “Longhorn” assimilated many of the important new features and technologies slated for “Blackcomb”, resulting in the release date being pushed back several times. Many of Microsoft’s developers were also re-tasked with improving the security of Windows XP.
Microsoft has announced that Windows Vista will be broadly available as a stand-alone product or pre-installed on new PCs on January 30, 2007. Windows Vista will be made available to Volume License customers later in the month of November 2006.
After “Longhorn” was named Windows Vista, an unprecedented beta-test program was started, involving hundreds of thousands of volunteers and companies. In September 2005, Microsoft started releasing regular Community Technology Previews (CTP) to beta testers. The first of these was distributed among 2005 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference attendees and was subsequently released to Microsoft Beta testers and Microsoft Developer Network subscribers. The builds that followed incorporated most of the planned features for the final product, as well as a number of changes to the user interface, based largely on feedback from beta testers.
Windows Vista was deemed feature-complete with the release of the “February CTP“, released on February 22, 2006, and much of the remainder of work between that build and the final release of the product focused on stability, performance, application and driver compatibility, and documentation. Beta 2, released in late May, was the first build to be made available to the general public through Microsoft’s Customer Preview Program. It was downloaded by over five million people. Two release candidates followed in September and October, both of which were made available to a large number of users.