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The long and oft-delayed journey toward the release of Windows Vista entered the home stretch Oct. 6 when Microsoft released what is likely the final test build, Release Candidate 2.

“Microsoft expects the RC2 build to be the last interim release before the product is released to manufacturing. As we stated from the beginning of Windows Vista development, the quality of the product will always be our first priority. That said, Microsoft continues to target Windows Vista availability for volume license customers in November 2006 and general availability in January 2007, although the final delivery will be based on quality,” a spokesperson told eWEEK.

Office 2007 is also just weeks away from being released to manufacturing.

Microsoft told its TAP (Technology Adoption Program) partners Oct. 6 that “with your help, we have far exceeded our technical participation goals.

“At this time, we are pleased to announce that the 2007 Office system will be released to manufacturing (RTM) in the next few weeks.”

Microsoft is planning to release Vista and Office together. Click here to read more.

The Vista RC 2 release, build 5744, is being made available to between 50,000 and 100,000 people, including a select number of CPP (Customer Preview Program) participants as well as the regular TechBeta, TechNet, TAP and MSDN testers.

RC 2 includes improvements in performance, application compatibility and fit and finish work, the spokesperson said, adding that the strong feedback received since RC1 has helped it improve the overall quality and performance of the product.

Click here to read more about how Vista RC1 tests showed that the migration path might be rocky.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker also encouraged partners and customers to test for deployment and to certify their products for Windows Vista logos.

Microsoft also noted that customers should verify any outstanding issues not addressed during their RC1 testing, saying that it would continue to service RC 1until the launch of Windows Vista, as that build remains viable for logo certification.

The release of RC2 follows the interim Vista build that Microsoft released on Sept. 22, and the release of RC1 earlier in the month.

Microsoft expects 10 times more seats of Windows Vista to be deployed at launch, with deployment within the first year being twice as quick as that for any other version.

Business customers were also expected to deploy it faster than for any other Windows operating system release, Brad Goldberg, the general manager for the Windows client business group, told eWEEK recently while on a cross-country tour designed to get the message out about the business value and benefits that Vista brings.

eWEEK was unable to get immediate confirmation from Microsoft about the accuracy of reports that there are still more than 1,400 Vista bugs at this stage—although that number is down from the 2,400-plus in late September—or whether it is correct that the internal goal is to reduce this to fewer than 500 before the product is released to manufacturing.

What is the business case for upgrading to Vista? Click here to read more.

With regard to Office 2007, Microsoft said that the Office Preview site will be closed down Oct. 25, at which time the Office beta 2 technical refresh will no longer be available for download.

In addition, all the information currently found on the Office Preview site will be migrated to the Office Online Web site, while technical support will transition from the beta support news-groups staffed by Office employees to the in-market product support provided by Microsoft Customer Service and Support.

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