The Microsoft ( MSFT) marketing machine has kicked into overdrive as the software giant released the consumer version of Vista, the much-delayed successor to its Windows XP operating software.

On Tuesday morning, Vista, Office and other related products will be available in as many as 39,000 retail outlets in 70 countries and translated from English into 98 other languages.

The launch is the biggest Microsoft event since it unveiled Windows XP in 2001, and Vista is probably the company's most important product since Windows 95.

Investors have high hopes for the new product cycle and have bid up shares nearly 40% since mid-June in anticipation of stronger revenue and earnings generated by the operating system and other new products hitting store shelves and Web sites around the world.

Marketing expenditures to support sales of the new product will be huge. Microsoft won't say exactly how much, but the phrase "hundreds of millions" of dollars has been used by company executives.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage in New York City on Monday, touting the product's "Wow" factor in a lavish Webcast production. "This is the biggest launch in software history," said Ballmer.

And responding to pundits who say the rise of the Internet, digital entertainment and a wide variety of handheld devices have turned the PC into something of an afterthought, Ballmer said, "The product that brings it all together is really the PC running Windows."

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