Microsoft said yesterday that Vista, the much-delayed new version of its Windows operating system, was ready for its last and broadest round of testing.
Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, announced the release of the final test version of the program, along with test versions of its Office business software suite and Longhorn server software, at the company's annual conference for hardware developers in Seattle. In a speech that was broadcast on the Internet, he called the release "a significant milestone."
By showing it can stick to its latest development schedule, Microsoft is clearly hoping to win back the allegiance of developers. Many were disappointed when the company conceded in March that Vista would not be ready for consumers until January, missing the holiday sales season.
Microsoft holds 90 percent of the PC operating system market, and more than 300 PC manufacturers install Windows on their machines at the factory. The software accounts for nearly a third of Microsoft's revenue. The company had originally said it would release Vista in 2005, then delayed it until mid-2006.
Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's platforms and services division, said in an interview yesterday that he was confident that the software would be ready for consumers by January and for corporate customers this November.
"This is a call to action to make sure everybody is prepared," Mr. Allchin said, referring to the thousands of hardware and software developers whose livelihoods depend on Vista's success.
But Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner Inc., a technology market research company, said that the shipping schedule was overly ambitious and that Vista was not likely to reach consumers before next March. "We think they are underestimating how long it's going to take to respond to the problems that two million people find," he said, referring to those who are likely to test Vista.
The announcement comes less than a week after Symantec, a longtime Microsoft partner, filed suit against the company, claiming that it violated the terms of a licensing agreement with Veritas, which Symantec acquired last year. The suit, which was filed in federal court in Seattle, charges that Microsoft improperly used Veritas technology in Vista and other software. It seeks an injunction to stop Microsoft from selling Vista until the technology is removed.
Mr. Allchin said he was confident the suit would not affect the release of Vista, and called the dispute with Symantec "a sad state of affairs."