On May 23rd I predicted that Microsoft would start the Windows Vista Customer Preview Program (CPP) within a few weeks, and I have been proven right. Microsoft today announced public availability of Vista Beta 2, the same build (5384) as was made available to developers at WinHEC. If you don't mind waiting for the 3.5Gb 32-bit download (4.4Gb for the 64-bit version) you might even be able to have a play yourself. Of course, this depends on a number of factors; not least whether your computer is highly specified enough to run it, and the (non) availability of suitable drivers for lots of hardware. See my earlier blog posting with regard to the real minimum system specifications for a Vista Capable PC.
More problematical would appear to be the lack of bandwidth at the Microsoft end. The official download link has been mostly unavailable ever since it was first announced. This is to be expected, although not by Microsoft which seems to have been caught out by the sheer demand for the new OS Beta. But fear not, intrepid techies, if you really want to get your hands on Vista and really can't wait then you can either Go Google for a BitTorrent version (and there are plenty out there) or maybe just go and grab it from the top secret direct download link instead. Be warned, it took me more than 4 hours to download the 32-bit ISO over a fast DSL line, so don’t expect instant gratification here!
Indeed, gratification isn't guaranteed at all: this is still a Beta remember. Personally, I'd advise against anything but an install on a secondary partition. While you can install as an upgrade to XP, you can't uninstall. To get your old OS back you would have to do a clean XP installation.
UPDATE: 9th June, lunchtime
It looks like Microsoft has got wise to the bloggers hitting the direct link to the ISO download of Vista Beta 2, and pulled it. Try using the URL mentioned above and it now returns an 'Access denied' message pointing you at the the preview page instead.
Unfortunately, if you go to the official download link and try to get the OS using your own download manager, you get exactly the same message.
At least there's a different message if you try to grab it using the official Microsoft/Akamei download manager as recommended on that page:
Thank you for your interest in Windows Vista Beta 2.
We are currently experiencing a high level of demand and cannot process your request at this time.
Please check back later for availability.
We apologize for any inconvenience.
Nice to know that Microsoft is making it as easy as possible for you to preview the new OS. Go on, grab hold of a torrent: you know it makes sense...