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Week in review: Vista release on the horizon

After five years of development and many delays, Microsoft says the update to Windows is ready to be released to consumers.

After five years of development and many delays, Microsoft says the update to the Windows operating system is ready for release.

The software giant announced that its Vista operating system will go on sale to consumers January 30. The software maker has scheduled a November 30 press conference to announce the new operating system, along with Office 2007. The releases mark major updates to Microsoft's two key moneymakers.

The release of Vista will mark the first full-fledged update to the desktop operating system since Windows XP in 2001. Among the changes coming with Vista are a new graphics engine and user interface, improved desktop searching and a new media player and Web browser. Also included are "under the hood" improvements in areas like security and manageability, as well as power management.

Microsoft literally began handing over discs to computer makers this week and, of course, gave them electronic access to the different versions of the operating system, which is now ready in five languages.

That gives computer makers, also known as original equipment manufacturers, about 12 weeks until the launch to do their final testing and start building Vista-loaded PCs. That's longer than the time the industry had between the release to manufacturing of Windows XP and its October 2001 launch.

Computer makers like Dell and HP now have to do their final testing and make sure all the drivers are ready for their systems ahead of the January launch.

Many CNET News.com readers were unimpressed by the announcement.

"With so many known bugs that have yet to be addressed and features that were dumped so it could be released 2 years late, it is not finished," wrote one reader to the News.com TalkBack forum.

Microsoft gave CNET News.com behind-the-scenes access to Vista in the days before it was declared "finished." Members of the Windows team gathered inside a windowless conference room on the Microsoft campus to go over the bugs that remain, and to debate which of these can still be fixed. The intense "end game," as these final weeks are known, is a well-worn tradition inside the "shiproom." The small room, with its dated, dark wood conference table has been the war room for every Windows release since Windows 2000.

Ballot boxing
In midterm elections, Democrats seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, dramatically changing the outlook for technology-related legislation. On a wealth of topics--including Net neutrality, digital copyright, merger approval, data retention, Internet censorship--a Capitol Hill controlled by Democrats should yield a shift in priorities.

Net neutrality is one of the clearest examples of an issue that has precipitated a partisan rift. In the Senate, all the Republican committee members but one voted against extensive broadband regulations. These regulations are backed by Internet companies such as Google and eBay, but are opposed by telecommunications and hardware providers.

The Democratic victory capped a historic election year marked by heavy use of the Internet for activism, outreach and fundraising. More so than in the 2004 presidential campaign, politicians turned to the Internet to stay competitive through tactics like publishing their own blogs, hiring bloggers and soliciting online donations.

The Internet also played a less clear but still influential role by permitting former Rep. Mark Foley's lurid conversations about masturbation to be recorded--in transcripts that Democrats were able to invoke or reference in campaign advertisements designed to unseat Republican incumbents by painting them as Washington insiders or as corrupt.

Political bloggers also were some of the first to report election irregularities, especially those involving electronic voting machines. From Colorado to Florida, glitches blamed on human error or computer malfunctions yielded long lines and led some precincts to resort temporarily to paper ballots.

About 39 percent of voters were expected to cast their ballots on Tuesday using electronic voting machines. Another 49 percent of voters were expected to use optical-scan voting equipment, which uses computers to tabulate paper ballots in a manner similar to standardized tests.

A look at Web 2.0
Intel seems to be jumping into the software business with the announcement at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco that it has put together a collaboration software suite that it will offer to small and medium-size businesses via its resellers. Called SuiteTwo, the package will include software from Six Apart, Socialtext, NewsGator and SimpleFeed. These are small software companies that provide applications for blogs, RSS feeds, wikis and social networking.

All of these so-called Web 2.0 applications are more commonly associated with and used by consumers. But corporations are increasingly using blogs, wikis and social-networking applications.

To accelerate their use, Intel decided to assemble these applications into a single suite and to contract SpikeSource to integrate and support the offerings, said Lisa Lambert, the managing director of Intel Capital's software and solutions group.

With Microsoft's Vista and Office 2007 released to manufacturing, the software giant is preparing to adapt the products for the Web-dominated era, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie said at the Web 2.0 conference. Ozzie said the company overall is making a transition to designing software that takes advantage of the PC--as it has historically done--as well as online services.

"Now we are at an interesting juncture with Vista and Office (2007) done," Ozzie said.

Ozzie also described some of the product goals he envisions for the next editions of Windows and Office. Specifically, he said Office can be better adapted for Internet-connected mobile devices. And the next version of Windows should aid software developers in creating applications that run on machines with several processing "cores" on a chip.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos used his conference appearance to say he is convinced that his company's nascent hosted computing service will yield dividends for the retail giant, with time. Financial analysts have voiced some concern about the level of technology spending that Amazon is doing and whether its foray into hosted computing services is a distraction from its online commerce business.

Bezos was unapologetic about investing in Amazon Web Services--a collection of 10 hosted services that give software developers access to Amazon data and computing services, such as storage and processing power.

"Why we're doing this is because we're good at it and we think it can be a meaningful, financially attractive business one day," he said.

Also of note
Microsoft will pay Novell a net amount of $308 million to market and distribute its competitor's product...Wal-Mart Stores has started selling a Compaq laptop for $398 a few weeks ahead of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and one of the biggest shopping days of the year...Texas Instruments unfurled plans to produce a chip that will let consumers in emerging markets buy inexpensive video cell phones by 2008...Microsoft unveiled a downloadable browser application that brings the photorealism and maneuverability of gaming into its online mapping and local search service.