Microsoft said on Friday that the new version of its Windows operating system would be named Vista and would be released late next year.
The first of two test versions of the program will be made available to corporate technology managers on Aug. 3, the company said. The new version has been known as Longhorn since development began more than four years ago.
The name was chosen after eight months of research and focus groups because it "captures the idea of clarity," company executives said.
Windows Vista will be the first major upgrade to Microsoft's flagship product since the release of Windows XP in 2001. Windows runs on more than 90 percent of the world's computers and accounts for about a third of the company's revenue.
The naming of Vista, which was announced to Microsoft sales and marketing employees gathered at an annual sales conference in Atlanta, is significant because it means the program is entering the final stages of internal development and beginning the sometimes long and arduous process of external testing. It also signals the beginning of what will certainly be an expensive marketing campaign.
Charles DiBona, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein, said the arrival of the test version of Vista in August would give software developers confidence that the final product is on schedule. A new version of Windows, he said, "will help the whole Microsoft and Windows ecosystem."
Among Vista's features are new ways to organize information and connect to other devices. In Vista, for example, the icons used to represent files will be tiny snapshots of the actual files -- a photo or a letter, for example -- rather than a generic graphic.
The company has also put a particular focus on search capability.
"We're looking to go beyond search," Brad Goldberg, Microsoft's general manager for Windows development, said in an interview.
"It will be much more intuitive for people to organize their data," he said.
Goldberg said the program would also include better protection against viruses and spyware.
Microsoft officials did not say when the company would ship the second test version to a broader audience, but said the final version was on target to reach consumers in the last half of 2006. Many industry analysts expect Microsoft to release the product in time for the holiday season, but not before.
The company said a version of the program for server computers would follow in 2007. Goldberg said the company would release more details on Vista at a software developer's conference in September.
Microsoft first began demonstrating some of the new features in 2003, when the company was saying that the program would be released last year.
But development was delayed when nearly the entire Longhorn programming team was diverted to repairing security problems in Windows XP. In the process, the company learned it needed to focus acutely on the growing problem of viruses and spyware. At the same time, the company also changed some of the program's features, most notably scaling back plans to create an entirely new file system.
On Thursday, Microsoft reported that revenue grew only 8 percent in fiscal 2005, which ended on June 30, compared with the company's double-digit growth rate in past years.
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