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The long-awaited next version of Microsoft’s PC operating system will be named Windows Vista, the software company said on Friday.

Along with the confirmation that a beta, or test, version of the software will be made available on August 3, the news is the latest sign that Microsoft is still on course with a timetable that could see the launch of the software by the end of next year.

The Vista name was chosen because the software is meant to bring “clear ways to organise and use information the way you want to use it,” Microsoft said.

Until now, the software has been codenamed Longhorn - a name borrowed from the Longhorn Saloon, an apres ski venue at the base of Whistler mountain in the Canadian Rockies.

The release of the test version of the software, in line with a timetable Microsoft announced this Spring, comes nearly two years after a first, rudimentary form of the software was released to independent software developers. Microsoft makes the software available in advance so that other developers have time to build their own applications to run on the operating system by the time it is launched.

Since the last test version, Microsoft has changed tack on some of the software’s core elements in an effort to hasten the launch of the much-delayed operating system. A new file system that had been talked of as a central part of the software has been delayed and will not be included in Windows Vista when it is launched.

Two other elements - Avalon, a new graphics engine, and Indigo, a communications tool - will be made available to run on earlier versions of Windows as well, effectively “unbundling” the new operating system.

The company’s shares dipped more than 2 per cent to $25.81 in New York on Friday as its forecast of sales for the first quarter disappointed some analysts.

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