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Vista winds its way to market

The release of the Windows update to computer makers is just the start of a long process to get it on shelves and in PCs.

Microsoft has wrapped up development on Windows Vista, but there's still a lot of work to do before new PCs start shipping with the operating system in January.

After weeks of final testing and stamping out last-minute bugs, Microsoft declared Vista "soup" on Wednesday.

The company literally began handing over master discs to PC makers this week, as well as giving them electronic access to the different versions of the operating system update, which is ready in five languages.

That gives computer makers, also known as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), about 12 weeks until the Jan. 30 launch to do their final testing and to 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.

Vista's last mile

"OEM attention is really shifting, now, beyond Vista to their own ecosystem," said Jim Totton, a former Dell executive who is part of the Microsoft unit that coordinates with computer makers.

Companies like Dell and Hewlett-Packard now have to do their final testing and make sure all the drivers are ready for their systems ahead of the January launch.

"You can rest assured that process has been ongoing for some time," Dell spokesman Bob Kaufman said.

At Microsoft, the Windows team is taking Friday to celebrate the completion of Vista, but then it's back to the grindstone. Developers in Redmond are still looking for potential problems, and also trying to help computer makers, software developers and device manufacturers make sure their products are ready.

Windows chief Jim Allchin was recently testing Vista's remote assistance feature from his house. After a while, he ran into problems. It turned out the router he had wasn't working quite right and needed a firmware upgrade to work reliably.

"I have to say that we've already met with them, and they were very focused on fixing the issue," Allchin told CNET News.com last week.

For those companies that are particularly reticent about getting Vista-ready, Allchin said he is not above making a phone call or two. "The quality is the combined ecosystem," Allchin said. "Everybody has a lot to do right now."

On the marketing side, Microsoft is trying to walk a fine line. The company wants to build some awareness for the new operating system, but also doesn't want to crimp holiday PC sales. The possibility of people holding off on buying a computer until after that sale season was one of the key concerns after Microsoft said in March that the new OS wouldn't make it on PCs until January.

Although it has yet to really kick in the , Microsoft has launched a coupon program. Under the program, many computer makers are offering free or discounted Vista upgrades to those who buy a new PC prior to the January 30 launch.

"You want (the coupon) to be an objection remover, but it's not the focus," Totton said. "Vista is not here today."