If you've been wondering what all the fuss was about ever since Microsoft announced a successor to Windows XP back in July of 2001, and weren't up all night downloading beta operating systems like we always seem to be, you might have missed the fact that Microsoft has released the Windows Vista Beta 2 to the public as a free download yesterday. Developers have already been spending some quality time with the build, and it looks like things are finally coming together for Microsoft -- but there are still plenty of compatibility woes, interface oddities, and just plain sluggishness in the OS. Some of the "change for change's sake" has a few reviewers riled up, and Vista is really not recommended for consistent exposure right now. But hey, it's free. There are a limited number of Beta slots, and once they're gone they're gone, so we recommend moseying on over before you miss out on the real deal and have to hit your local torrent tracker. You'll need a DVD burner to create an install disc of Beta 2 and the Release Candidate 1 when it comes out -- signing up for the beta gets you both -- or you can give Microsoft $10 for shipping and production costs and they'll send you the goods in 2 to 4 weeks (by which time they'll surely be readying the release of the next Vista beta build).

[Thanks to everyone who sent this in]

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Microsoft releases Windows Vista Beta 2 to public