Microsoft Corp has finished work on its long-delayed Windows Vista operating system, and said the software would be broadly available on Jan. 30.
The announcement on Wednesday means Microsoft will meet -- just barely -- its revised goal of putting Vista in consumers' hands in the first month of next year. The release will be the first major upgrade in more than five years to the operating system that powers most of the world's personal computers.
Vista's code was released midmorning on Wednesday to manufacturing -- a step that allows the company to begin making the copies that will be distributed with PCs and sold at stores, said Jim Allchin, co-president of the Microsoft division that includes Windows, in a conference.
"This is a good day," Allchin said.
Microsoft had previously said it would release Vista to big business clients at an event at the NASDAQ Stock Market on Nov. 30, and Allchin reiterated on Wednesday that corporations who buy Windows licenses in bulk will get the new system this month. That's also in keeping with the company's revised release schedule.
Vista boasts improved graphics, more effective tools for finding documents, pictures and other items on personal computers, and a new Internet browser, among other changes.
The software has been plagued by delays, the most recent of which was blamed in part on efforts to improve security. Microsoft products are a near-constant target of Internet attackers, and the company is often in the uncomfortable position of having to plug holes in its products.
Allchin cautioned that Vista will still face some security threats because attackers are growing more sophisticated. But he said a rigorous testing process and changes that make it harder for attacks to jump from one Vista-powered computer to the next should reduce those problems.
In its quest to get Vista out the door, Redmond-based Microsoft also has had to scale back some of its original goals, including canceling a more sophisticated method for sorting and organizing data. Analysts have said that scaling back the system could hurt the company if people don't see enough reason to upgrade.
The most recent delays also forced Microsoft to miss the holiday season, potentially dealing a blow to computer makers and retailers who may have been hoping for the new system to boost gift sales.
Microsoft and PC manufacturers are offering holiday shoppers coupons good for a free or discounted Vista upgrade.
It's not clear how quickly big businesses will start using Vista. It can often take months if not years for companies to test a new operating system and make sure it will work well with the other programs they rely on.
Allchin said Microsoft is providing tools that allow companies to test for compatibility problems more quickly than with past Windows releases. He also said he hopes the security improvements would drive companies to upgrade faster.
Meanwhile, Microsoft and Universal Music Group say they have struck a licensing deal for the software company's new Zune portable music player and digital music store that calls for the recording company to get paid a cut of the sales of the device.
Executives at both companies declined to disclose the financial terms of the deal, which was expected to be officially announced early yesterday.
Redmond-based Microsoft Corp is pursuing similar agreements with other major record labels, Chris Stephenson, general manager of global marketing for Microsoft Entertainment, said late on Wednesday.
Zune, which is scheduled to be released Nov. 14, is Microsoft's attempt to compete with Apple Computer Inc's market-leading iPod player and iTunes music service. The device, which will sell for US$249.99, lets people share songs, playlists or pictures over a wireless connection with nearby Zune users.
Key features of the new Vista operating system
* Windows Aero transparency software that enables users to see through a page to view what is beneath it on the screen.
* New menu and organization tools for finding and tracking files stored in the computer.
* Windows Center Media software for improved handling of audio or video files.
* Windows Tablet PC enables users to enter data using writing tablets or by touching computer screens instead of typing on a keyboard.
* Voice recognition software allows users to give computers spoken commands.
* Backup and restore center automatically saves successive versions of files.
* Windows Firewall and Defender, systems which guard against online attacks, spying and malevolent software such as viruses.
* Windows DVD Maker, a tool for "burning," or copying, videos onto discs.
* Internet Explorer Seven, which allows users to do multiple searches in a single browser window and switch between the windows using tabs.
* Improved RSS (Really Simple Syndication), real-time feeds of information from selected Web sites.
* Parental controls that allow users to limit the range of Web sites accessible via a PC.
* Windows Mail replaces Outlook Express e-mail software with improved searching of stored messages and better filtering of electronic junk mail.
* Windows Calendar interactive diary, which had previously been part of an Outlook software package sold by Microsoft.
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