So the next version of the Windows Client ships in the second half of this year. It's planned to Release To Manufacture (RTM) late summer and be available in the shops well in time for Christmas.
You're probably/hopefully all waiting to get our hands on it, but most of you will have to wait for the public beta due out this Easter. It is (going to be) possible to pre-register for the beta programs (of Vista, Office & Exchange) by clicking on a link on our TechNet site - whilst you're waiting for the link to appear, this "might" work: Be the first to know. Pre-register today for information on all three Public Betas coming in 2006 from Microsoft: Windows Vista, Office “12”, and Exchange “12”.
I've been running Windows Vista (on and off) since it was called Longhorn. I've been running Windows Vista on my main PC (i.e. the one I use for my day-to-day job) for over a month now - regularly installing the daily builds & watching what's going on. It's been getting better and better as the builds progress (on average there's a build of Windows every day). When the developers get to a build that's pretty stable, they fork the development - the daily builds continue (adding features and fixing bugs) and the stable(ish) build gets a lot of focus for a week or two and we end up with a build that's stable enough for us to test and develop against. The latest stable build is build number 5308 and it will be the February Customer Technology Preview (CTP). The daily builds are currently up to around 5320. CTP's (up 'till now) have been reserved for internal use and Microsoft customers who are working with us on Early Adopter programs. Up until now that is - The February CTP is going to be the "Friends & Family" CTP - which means that Microsoft employees can give a copy to friends and family. The reason is that we want our support engineers to get up to speed on taking Windows Vista support calls. Anyway, turns out I've got hundreds of friends - if you really know me (and live in Ireland) drop me a line & I'll see about getting you a copy - it should be available (funnily enough) in February!
I've actually been running build 5309 since the end of January. My main PC is an old (18 months or so) 1.6GHz Toshiba tablet PC. The graphics card isn't up to much, so I can't run the new "Glass" user interface (which offloads all/most of the graphics processing to the onboard Graphics Processing Unit which lets Windows do clever things like transparency (hence "Glass") and three dimensional stuff - quite hard to describe with words - you have to see it). A couple of months ago I was having all sorts of "fun" getting device drivers for some of the devices in it (SD card reader, sound card, wireless) - I was able to get them working, but it was difficult. With this build I just install and everything works (well nearly - the tablet buttons aren't working - but I never used them anyway). I get to avail of all the great security features, of IE7, of all the metadata and search stuff and I'm getting to grips with running as a Limited User (which was difficult at first - I've been an administrator of all my PCs for ever).
Anyway, the point is: if I can run it on an old 1.6GHz laptop, you don't have to go out and buy yourself new hardware. The guidance is that a PC that is capable of running Windows XP is OK. 512Mb of memory is desired and if you want to use the Glass UI, you'll need a GPU with more than 64Mb memory (i.e. 128).
Don't forget, drop me a line & I'll see if I can get you the February CTP...