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Microsoft Releases 'Vista' Beta

Microsoft (MSFT) lifted the curtain a little higher on its next operating system Wednesday with the release of its first beta version.

Microsoft said beta 1 of Microsoft Windows Vista, previously code-named Longhorn, improves security, manageability and performance. Windows Vista will also include a new user interface, but beta 1 offers only an early peek at some of its features.

The release of the first beta version of Windows Vista comes one day before Microsoft is scheduled to meet with investors at its annual analyst day in Redmond, Wash. Analysts and investors are looking to the new Windows operating system, scheduled for final release at the end of next year, to be a major earnings boost for the world's largest software company -- and translate to a much-needed bounce in its languishing stock.

Vista will be Microsoft's first major update for its Windows franchise -- the company's cash cow -- since Windows XP came out in 2001.

Until now, however, details about Windows Vista's features have trickled out only in bits and pieces. In a detailed fact sheet released Wednesday, Microsoft detailed some specific improvements in the new operating system.

On its Web site , Microsoft offered photos of the new user interface, which includes more transparent, glass-like Windows and more animation. Microsoft also has redesigned the Start menu to make it easier and faster for users to find specific applications and browse all programs.

In addition, Microsoft has developed a new quick-search box that enables users to search large amounts of content -- a move intended to address competition from search leader Google (GOOG). Microsoft also is introducing a new organization concept called Virtual Folder, which it says is a saved search that automatically and instantly runs when a user opens a folder.

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