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Ballmer: Vista on track for January shipment

Operating system will ship as scheduled, says CEO, despite complexity of system and doubts by analysts.

The release of Microsoft's Windows Vista is still on track for shipment in January, its chief executive said on Thursday, as speculation about delays in the much-expected new operating system persist.

"I said yesterday Vista was on track to ship in the first part of next year January," Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said, referring to news reports Wednesday quoting him as saying that shipments could be delayed by a few weeks.

"It's on track, but we're going to see what kind of feedback we get from users ... and we're going to work to make sure it's absolutely a high-quality product. That's number one," Ballmer told a news conference at the Seoul Digital Forum.

The comment comes after the world's biggest software company was sued last week by software rival Symantec, which accused Microsoft of misappropriating trade secrets to develop Vista and other products.

The new versions of Windows and Office software are central to Microsoft's efforts to revive a stock that has underperformed major indices since the start of 2002.

Microsoft originally targeted a 2005 launch for the new Windows, then pushed the release to 2006 before announcing in March that Vista would again be delayed to improve the product.

Research group Gartner said earlier this month it expects yet another delay in the release of Vista by at least three months from Microsoft's targeted November release for volume license customers and January launch for retail consumers, citing the new system's complexity.

Ballmer said Microsoft, which acquired 22 companies over the last 12 months for about $750 million, would seek to acquire more small and medium-size technology firms, but did not elaborate on a budget.

He declined to comment when asked about its overall investment plan for the next fiscal year. He confirmed Microsoft, which has more than $30 billion in cash, planned to spend $6.2 billion on research and development for the current fiscal year ending June 30.

Microsoft took investors off guard in late April when it said it would sacrifice billions of dollars in profit next year to invest in new business areas.

"We will continue to make that kind of long-term investment to drive long-term innovation and grow, and shareholders appreciate that we are able to grow profits," Ballmer said.

Microsoft also announced on Thursday it would double its investment in South Korea's information technology industry and education, pushing its total commitment in the country to $60 million over three years.

"The more successful companies there are in Korea, the bigger the overall market becomes for all players, including players like Microsoft," Ballmer said.

With the additional $30 million investment, Microsoft said it planned to add two laboratories to its existing research centre in the country to develop new products and technologies for export.

Ballmer said Microsoft's investment plan was not related to the legal issues it faces in South Korea. Microsoft is appealing a December ruling by South Korea's antitrust watchdog that ordered the unbundling of some of its software from the Window operating system and a 32.5 billion won fine.

Ballmer said the case would "work its way through the Korean legal system."

The Korean Fair Trade Commission on Monday rejected an objection lodged by Microsoft over the ruling. The U.S. company also separately filed an appeal with the Seoul High Court to review the case, saying its bundled version benefited consumers and the local technology industry and did not stifle competition.

It is part of a global legal fight by Microsoft against charges it has abused its dominant market position.

The European Commission found in 2004 Microsoft abused its near-monopoly of its Windows operating system to muscle out rivals. A U.S. court ruled in 2001 that Microsoft's bundling of its own Internet Explorer browser was illegal while it also has encountered trouble with regulators in Japan.