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Microsoft's Windows Vista released to manufacturing

Microsoft said last week that development of Windows Vista is now complete, with the software being released to manufacturing in advance of a gradual rollout to customers over the next few months.

The newly completed operating system — slated to ship for large-volume business customers on November 30th and to the general public on January 30th —marks the first major Windows update from the company in five years.

The Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft said it plans an extremely aggressive launch on that later date, which will see Vista preinstalled on as many systems as possible, culminating in an expected total of 100 million systems running Vista by the end of 2007.

"On Jan. 30, you will be hard pressed to find a machine that doesn't have Windows Vista available," said Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's platforms and services division.

Vista sports a series of major upgrades to the Windows foundation, including a 3D-accelerated windowing system, system-wide live search results, and a much stricter security policy that should block the web browser exploits and self-propagating Internet worms that caused widespread security trouble for Windows XP users.

Nevertheless, the long-delayed OS has suffered criticism from both rivals and supporters alike, prompting many to speculate that development has been hurried in an attempt to remain competitive with other software.

Apple has openly but light-heartedly accused Microsoft of imitating its own Mac OS X operating system with Vista, pointing out clear similarities that have crept into Vista since the release of Mac OS X Tiger in April of 2005. These include Vista Gadgets' sidebar resemblance to Tiger's Dashboard layer and a parallel between Vista's Flip 3D task switcher and Tiger's Exposé.

In turn, testers themselves have reported an unusually large number of flaws in later stages: "This is the buggiest OS I've seen this late in development," Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said of Vista during its Beta 2 phase.

While later Vista releases have measurably improved stability, the software has been delayed as recently as late October in order to address last-minute programming bugs.

Microsoft has also been criticized by computer resellers for potentially damaging holiday sales with its scheduled January launch and for demanding a price premium for the legal right to run Vista in a virtual environment.