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Friday, September 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:45 PM

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New test version moves Microsoft closer to Vista release

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft moved a big step closer to completing the Windows Vista operating system with the announcement today of a near-final version. In a letter to people involved in a testing program, Windows Division co-President Jim Allchin said that Release Candidate 1 (RC1) is now available to them for testing. It will be made available more broadly next week.

The timing of this release puts Microsoft in position to complete the next generation of its flagship product on the current schedule.

Microsoft has repeatedly delayed the planned release date of Vista, but currently aims to get the operating system to large business customers in November and everyone else in January.

"We've made some [user interface] adjustments, added more device drivers, and enhanced performance," Allchin said in the letter to Microsoft's TechBeta program. We're not done yet, however — quality will continue to improve."

He said independent software makers should use RC1 to certify that their applications work with the new operating system, which replaces 5-year-old Windows XP.

Earlier this week, Computerworld reported that Microsoft had some 5,000 engineers working up to 70 hours a week to complete RC1.

Microsoft leaders are now imploring beta testers to quickly review this latest version of the operating system code. A release candidate is typically considered complete by the manufacturer, but needs to go through a final battery of testing before it becomes "gold code" and goes out as a commercial product.

"The operating system is in great shape with RC1, but there's still a lot of testing to do," Allchin said. "You've come through for us so far, and I'm asking you to once again put the pedal to the metal and send us feedback."

Sven Hallauer, director of release management with Windows Vista, indicated in Computerworld that meeting the release schedule is now largely in the hands of testers outside of Microsoft.

"Time is of the essence," he was quoted as saying. "We have a feedback window of two to three weeks after RC1 release where we can really make changes to the product in terms of getting deeper into the product's code base. Thereafter, we become very, very constrained in terms of what we can change without resetting the clock and slipping the release."

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

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