The complex testing that still needs to be carried out on the next version of Windows means the computer operating system is likely to be hit by further delays before it finally goes on sale next year, Gartner, the technology research firm, said on Tuesday.

The warning from one of the most influential firms in its field comes little more than a month after Microsoft conceded the most recent slip in its timetable, saying that Windows Vista would not now go on sale in new PCs until January and so miss the important holiday shopping season for consumers.

The software will be made available to big companies that have volume license agreements with Microsoft later this year, according to the company.

According to Gartner, however, PC buyers will not be able to buy Windows Vista until at least March next year, and possibly not until June.

“We respectfully disagree with Gartner’s views around timing of the final delivery of Windows Vista,” a spokesperson for Microsoft said, adding that the software would be completed on time.

David Smith, a Gartner analyst, said that Microsoft’s repeated failure to hit earlier deadlines with Vista was one of the factors that the research firm weighed when coming to its latest prediction on timing.

“They firmly believe they’ll get it done on time – but, until a month ago, they firmly believed they’d get it done by the end of the year,” he said.

Microsoft has said it will release the second beta, or test, version of its software before the end of June, leaving a period of about five months of testing and de-bugging before its planned “release to manufacture” date – the moment the software is given to PC makers.

That schedule does not leave enough time to test such a complex piece of software with all the many applications that will run on it, Mr Smith warned. By comparison, the second test phase of Windows 2000, the last major revamp of the operating system, took 16 months.

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