Although many Blender 2.5 Alphas have been release, everyone has been looking forward to the Beta, and now it is here! There has been a lot of changes since the last Alpha, including a whole new way of using add-ons (as well as including a lot of great ones), a lot more stabilizing of the python API, a whole host of improvements in sculpting, thanks in part to the Google Summer of Code, and many other great upgrades.
In Blender 2.4 There was a scripts page where you could run scripts, now we have the add-ons tab, which is part of the User Preferences window. From there you can sort and search the add-ons in a way much easier than in Blender 2.4. To enable and disable the addons, all you have to do is click a checkbox. Now instead of having all the options in the scripts window, they are contained in the toolbar, a much more accessible place. There are a bunch of great scripts included in the beta, including the Dynamic Spacebar Menu, which was reviewed in BlenderArt #28. Other scrips of note are NRK's Cloud Generator script, a VERY useful script (I even used it to create my Orbs in the Grass), the Curvaceous Galore script, which allows you to generate a whole host of curves, the Regular Solids script, through which you can add Rhombic Triacontahedrons and all sorts of other names that you can't pronounce, and beyond those there are many more, all of which I'm sure you will find useful.
Sculpting has also improved, there 17 great brushes, which for the most part are very intuitive (and have great thumbnails!), and overall speed has definitely improved. Even though I did not use sculpt much in 2.49, I can see that there is much less delay between when I give start sculpting and when blender responds, evan at very high vert counts. I was able to sculpt very easily up to almost 400,000 verts and evan at almost 1.6 million I was able to still have quick feedback. It was only when I subdivided as high as 6.2 million verts that I started encountering large lag times, and my computer is definetly not top of the line, it's hardly even in the middle. With a powerhouse workstation, built especially for 3d art I'm sure Blender sculpting will go very far. For a more in depth review of the new sculpting features, check out this page.
There are some other new, cool things in Blender 2.5 as well. A big one is that at the splash screen (and in the User Preferences>Input tab) you can choose between a Blender or a Maya keymap preset as well as creating your own, this should allow Maya users easier transitions as well as helping out people in Maya environments, who want to easily use Blender. In this release we also now say farewell to shaded viewport shading, now there are only 4 different viewport shading techniques: Bounding Box, Wireframe, Solid and Textured. The beta includes hundreds of other bugfixes and small improvements, but there are a couple things lacking.A large one, is the fact that the Renderbranch has not yet been merged with the trunk (to the best of my knowledge). And so it appears that many of the render speedups and whatnot are not available in the Alphas and Betas. I look forward to the day when it us, and hopefully as Sintel finishes up, that day will be soon.
Despite these negatives in the Beta the positives far outweight them, and I recommend this beta to anyone familiar with Blender. Whenever I open Blender 2.53 Beta, it's like opening a good book, you never want to put it down. I'm sure that when you start up the Blender beta, you won't want to put it down either.
You can download it from Blender.org here, and if you wish to read more about what Blender 2.5 as a whole has brought us, just visit this page.