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Windows Vista inches forward

Microsoft releases a new test version to a small group and says a broader update is coming soon.

Microsoft released an interim test version of Windows Vista to some corporate testers on Friday, and said it will expand the program to selected tech enthusiasts soon.

The software maker, which is planning to broadly launch a "release candidate" test version by the end of September, said that it has delivered a more modest update (build 5536.16385) to businesses that are part of its Technical Adoption Program. It also has sent it to members of its TechBeta tester pool and of its MSDN developer network.

In addition, Microsoft intends to give the test version next week to about 200,000 of the 1.5 million tech enthusiasts who participate in the Vista Customer Preview Program (CPP).

The Redmond, Wash.-based company has been struggling to get the operating system update out the door. Last year, it cut features from Vista, in hopes that would allow the software to make it onto PCs by the 2006 holiday buying season. However, in March, Microsoft said it would have to delay Vista further, with plans for a mainstream launch in January.

In May, the company released its second beta version of Vista, the last update to be made broadly available for testing.

Microsoft has already selected which of the CPP testers will get the updated build and has notified them by e-mail. Those who weren't selected will have to wait until the release candidate is available to update their test version of Vista. The company said the goal of releasing this build beyond the technical tester pool is "to diversify ecosystem feedback."

The new test version does not include any new features, but a representative for the software maker said it does include "quality and performance improvements based on feedback Microsoft has received to date."