Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Microsoft finishes test version of Vista

RUSH JOB The US computer behemoth is struggling to work out all the kinks from its latest operating system in time to put it into eager customer hands by January

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Microsoft Corp, the world's largest software maker, completed the test version of its Windows Vista operating system as it works to deliver the program to consumers by January.

The test version, called a release candidate, was made available to about 15,000 Microsoft customers and partners on Friday, Kevin Kutz, a director in Microsoft's Windows group, said in an interview.

More than 500,000 others will get access on Tuesday, Jim Allchin, co-president of platform products and services, wrote in a letter on Friday posted on Microsoft's TechBeta Web site.

Already more than two years behind schedule, Microsoft plans to release Vista to corporate customers in November before the software becomes generally available in January. Whether it makes that deadline will depend on feedback from the current round of testing, said Joe Wilcox, a Kensington, Maryland-based analyst at JupiterResearch.

"Microsoft is committed to making its deadlines, but the decision is now out of Microsoft's hands," Wilcox said in an interview. "It's up to the testers and what they find."

A further delay may cost the company hundreds of millions in revenue, Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell said in July. Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft is working to finish on time and may offer discounts on upgrades so customers won't postpone holiday PC purchases because the machines don't contain Vista.

Amazon.com Inc is already taking orders for Vista on its Web site. The online retailer lists the price for Vista Ultimate, the most expensive retail product, at US$399 for a full version and US$259 for an upgrade. An upgrade to the most basic home version costs US$100.

Microsoft declined to confirm the prices.

"The operating system is in great shape," Allchin said. "There's still a lot of testing to do."

He asked technical customers getting the release to "put the pedal to the metal and send us feedback."

The holdup is already expected to shave US$4 billion in revenue from PC industry sales this year, according to market research firm Gartner Inc.

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