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Wednesday, July 27, 2005 - Page updated at 09:13 AM

Microsoft to release Windows version

Seattle Times technology reporter

The worst-kept secret in Redmond is the release date for a nearly completed version of Windows Vista.

A "beta" test version of the company's new operating system, formerly known by the code name Longhorn, is being released to software developers for testing this morning. That's a few days earlier than a deadline Microsoft gave when it released the product name last week.

Details of the long-awaited release were widely reported yesterday by software-enthusiast sites, but spokespersons insisted those reports were only rumors and speculation. They wanted the news held until today, which would have put it in newspapers tomorrow, the day of the company's annual financial-analysts meeting.

Microsoft has been trickling out previews of the software since October 2003, but today's beta is a milestone in the development process. It's a polished version that can be run and tested by programmers and computer makers as they start building Vista-based products to go on sale along with Vista in late 2006.

More than a third of Microsoft's employees in Redmond have worked directly or indirectly on the product, which is likely to run most of the world's computers in the coming decade. It's also the first PC operating system to be released since Microsoft made security and reliability top priorities.

New features planned for Vista that have been already reported or disclosed by the company include:

• A built-in desktop search tool that appears just above the Start button. It lets users quickly find all sorts of files stored on the PC; results are displayed as thumbnail images of the documents that are found.

• A new version of Internet Explorer with built-in tools to prevent "phishing" scams that fool users into thinking they're at a secure Web site. The browser will also be available for users of Windows XP.

• New operating modes that make it easier for users to log in and use their PCs without administrative-level control of the system. Most consumers use their PCs today in an administrative mode that makes them more vulnerable to attack; new modes could make it easier for companies to manage PCs.

• A new translucent desktop appearance and improved display and communication capabilities.

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Microsoft has also been working with computer hardware developers on ways to make Vista-based machines power up faster.

The timing of the release was widely reported online yesterday despite the efforts of Microsoft's public-relations firm to manage the news. Aside from the analysts meeting, Microsoft is always wary of specifying timing because of the potential for last-minute delays.

Reporters were briefed on the release details yesterday on condition the news be held until after the software is released on Microsoft's developer Web site this morning.

"It seems like sort of an odd sequence of events for me; it seems to be maybe timed to the analyst conference Thursday," said Dwight Davis, a Kirkland-based industry analyst at Summit Strategies, who was briefed on the release plans yesterday. "I can't imagine that too many of the financial analysts who are attending will want to rush right home with their beta code and start playing with it."

Davis said the beta version is incomplete, but has many "gee whiz" features that will interest people. Businesses will be particularly interested in the administrative features.

Although today's beta release is ahead of the Aug. 3 deadline Microsoft gave last week, it's a stretch to say the product is ahead of schedule. Executives said in the past that 2005 was a target for delivering the final version.

The company will also be under pressure to get all the new features sorted out in time for a late 2006 release, said Michael Cherry, a former Microsoft engineer now at the Directions on Microsoft research company in Kirkland.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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