Microsoft Corp. is releasing preview versions of its new Windows Vista operating system about once a month in an effort to get more customer feedback than usual ahead of next year's launch, the company said on Tuesday.
The world's largest software maker also reiterated its plan to launch Vista in the second half of 2006, five years after the release of its current version, Windows XP.
It is the longest gap ever between major launches of Microsoft's core Windows product, the company's cash cow which accounts for more than a quarter of its $40 billion in annual revenue.
Microsoft gave some customers preview versions of Vista in September and October and expects to offer another version with more improvements in December.
Early next year, testers will try out a version that integrates all the features expected to be in the final version of Vista.
In past Windows launches, Microsoft has reserved its previews for two major "beta" tests. Microsoft officials said the constant previews allow the software giant to gather customer feedback faster, speeding up improvements.
"Our customers will have a feature-complete Windows Vista sooner in their hands than any previous Windows release," said Amitabh Srivastava, a corporate vice president in Microsoft's Windows unit, in a conference call.
Once the basic features are integrated, Microsoft will focus on improving reliability of Vista until the launch date.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said it still plans two stages of "beta" previews and tried out its initial beta in July. Company officials declined to put a target date for the second major test.
Shares of Microsoft fell 7 cents, or 0.25 percent, to $27.68 in Nasdaq trade on Tuesday. Since Microsoft announced its fiscal first-quarter results on October 27, the company's stock has risen 11 percent versus a 7 percent rise on the S&P 500 <.SPX>.