Microsoft launches Vista version of Windows

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NEW YORK - Microsoft Corp. launched Windows Vista for businesses Thursday and said that by the end of next year more than 200 million people would use the new version of its dominant operating system or new office software and server computer products.

The biggest operating system upgrade in five years, Vista features translucent windows to make it easier to view items on the computer desktop, an improved search system, and improved reliability and security.

Plagued by a series of development delays, Windows Vista is front and center of the new product cycle at the world's largest software maker.

"This is the biggest launch in our company's history. That's for sure," Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said at a presentation in New York.

In a statement, he labeled the three products -- Windows Vista, Office 2007 software suite and Exchange server -- as "game-changing."

In the first year of release, Vista will be installed on more than 100 million computers worldwide, according to research firm IDC. Windows already runs more than 90% of the world's computers.

Microsoft plans to release Vista for retail customers on January 30, and Ballmer predicted that users would upgrade faster to Vista than to XP, the previous major upgrade. Microsoft will also spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing.

Consumers buying the Vista software off the shelf will pay between $199 and $399 for versions ranging from basic to "ultimate," although new computers almost always come with a version of Windows installed and corporations tend to have massive licensing deals.

Shares of Microsoft fell 16 cents to $29.41 in noon trade on Nasdaq.

The stock is up about 12% so far this year and trades at about 18 times projected fiscal 2008 earnings, compared with about 17 times for software rival Oracle Corp.
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