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Microsoft Declares Vista Ready

Business customers can expect delivery by the end of the month.

After years of delay,


(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report

has finished Vista, the new version of Windows, the software giant said Wednesday.

"This a good day, I'm super happy," said Jim Allchin, co-president of the company's platforms and services division. Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Allchin said Microsoft will get Vista into the hands of the largest business customers on or before Nov. 30 -- the date of the operating system's official launch event in New York City.

Consumers and other customers will be able to buy the software on Jan. 30 at retail stores or pre-installed on new PCs. "On Jan. 30, (buyers) will be hard-pressed to find

PCs that don't have Windows Vista

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installed," he said.

The announcement was not unexpected; the company has been giving positive signals about the progress of Vista since the summer, and expectations for sales of Vista and the new version of Office are already factored into the stock.

In recent trading, shares of Microsoft were up 15 cents to $29.10. Earlier in the session, the stock reached $29.23, topping the 52-week high of $29.07.

But had a last-minute glitch delayed release of the software, the stock would likely have taken a significant hit. The last new release of Windows was five years ago when the company shipped XP. CEO Steve Ballmer has pledged that the company will never again let so much time pass between releases of key software.

There's a good deal of disagreement about how quickly Vista will sell and drive revenue. Some analysts think that widescale deployment by businesses could take well over a year, although consumer deployment will be quicker.

The stakes for Microsoft are very high since Windows and Office represent roughly 60% of the company's total revenue. Stakes are also high for PC makers. Good reviews for the new operating system will likely encourage consumers and businesses to buy new computers. Poor reviews, of course, will do the opposite.

Windows ME, for example, was a flop that Microsoft would like to forget, while Windows 95 was a smash hit. Odds are, Vista will be somewhere in between.