NEW YORK - Microsoft Corp. launched its first new computer operating system in five years Thursday, saying that despite delays, the product's emergence is perfectly timed for PC users who increasingly need to coordinate information from a dizzying array of sources.
Opening an hourlong demonstration and press conference at the Nasdaq Stock Market, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged that Windows Vista should have been out long ago.
"I should probably say it's an exciting thing to finally be here - and that's all I'll say about the past," Ballmer said, before adding: "This is the biggest launch in our company's history, that's for sure."
Businesses that buy Windows licenses in bulk have first crack at PCs with the new operating system or at upgrade discs for installing Vista on existing machines. Consumers won't be able to get Vista on home PCs until Jan. 30.
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Analysts expect slow adoption of the new operating system as businesses test it for compatibility with their programs or wait for Microsoft to work out any kinks that may exist in the first release.
Microsoft and computer vendors contend that Vista will make computers more secure, powerful and graphically dynamic, especially when combined with other products Microsoft is releasing simultaneously. Those include new back-end server software for businesses, as well as Office 2007, which brings sweeping changes to widely used programs such as Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint.
Ballmer said the new offerings were suited to businesses that need to link staff, partners, documents and corporate data in far-flung locales and to manage information that comes in various formats over the Web.
The new version of Excel, for instance, packs vastly increased number-crunching abilities. The Outlook e-mail program performs noticeably faster searches for tidbits buried in messages - and it can integrate voice mail and instant messages when used with Microsoft server software.
"I think we really have the most comprehensive lineup our company has ever put in place," Ballmer said.