Installing Windows Vista Beta

Microsoft last month made Windows Vista Beta 2 publicly available for download or delivery on DVD via its Windows Vista Consumer Preview Program (CPP). The CPP closed to new registrations on June 30, and it appears Microsoft will not reopen it when Vista Release Candidate 1 arrives, but all registered CPP users will be offered RC1 as well.

What's the best way to install and test Windows Vista? There are three main ways to do so gracefully. There are also one or two tricks of the trade.

First, though, some things you should know: The downloadable version is an ISO file, which is designed to be burned to a DVD and then installed from the DVD. That means the computer you're installing Vista on needs a DVD drive. It is, though, possible to get around that requirement by installing Vista over a network from a machine that has a DVD drive to a machine that does not. My recommendation is to use a wired, not wireless, connection when you're doing this.

If you order the DVD, you'll get the 32-bit and 64-bit versions on two separate DVDs. You can also download the 64-bit version. Go with the 32-bit one, even if you're installing on a 64-bit machine -- unless you have a specific need to test 64-bit Vista. You'll encounter fewer hassles this way.

The Consumer Preview Program offers Windows Vista Ultimate only. Ultimate, as I've described in past, has all the features of all other versions of Windows Vista. So you'll get to see everything. It won't, however, help you understand the differences among lesser versions.

Finally, there is no information in this article about installing Vista Beta 2 or RC1 as an upgrade to an existing Windows installation. That's because performing upgrade installations is a bad idea. Microsoft would really like you to do it, because it wants information about what happens in the wild when people upgrade their systems. But don't be a Vista guinea pig. Upgrade installations never work as well as they should. And, while the final version of Vista may offer an uninstall option, the beta version does not. Even if you could uninstall it, there's no guarantee it would properly uninstall. If you install Vista as an upgrade, you will have to wipe your hard drive and reinstall your previous version of Windows after the test version expires. Every prerelease version of Vista expires, by the way, usually in three to six months. Did I make this plain enough? Your only rational choices for installing Vista Beta 2 are: