Microsoft Corp on Tuesday released new test versions of what company co-founder Bill Gates called its three most important products: Windows Vista for desktop computers, Windows for servers and the Office business software suite.
The new beta -- or test -- products were unveiled at Microsoft's annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, a highly technical event for the companies that produce gadgets powered by Microsoft products. The test releases are important because they help those companies prepare for the final launch of the new versions of Windows and Office.
The betas also are key for companies that are planning to deploy the new Windows and Office products and want to make sure they will work well with other business software.
Microsoft recently delayed the consumer release of the Windows Vista operating system and Office products until January, missing the all-important holiday season and dealing a blow to some hardware manufacturers who were hoping for a holiday sales boost. The company does plan to release the products to business users in November.
On Tuesday, it laid out plans to help customers understand whether new hardware they buy before Vista comes out will work well with it.
Mike Sievert, a corporate vice president in Windows marketing, said Microsoft also plans a marketing push around the holiday season to help spur hardware sales even before Vista releases, but he declined to provide details.
The Windows server operating system is due out by the end of next year.
Gates and other Microsoft executives sought on Tuesday to tout the benefits of companies using all three products together to improve security, more easily work together and more quickly find documents and other information.
The company also said the new technology would make it easier for companies to load software onto computers.
For consumers, Microsoft said Windows Vista would make it easier, faster and more enjoyable to do things like find family photos and watch movies. Microsoft also is placing particular focus on using its products in mobile devices, since the company believes that more people will start using gadgets such as "smart" cellphones for everyday tasks.
It also is hoping that the release of Vista will help propel sales of higher-end hardware such as computers that are geared toward watching television and listening to music.