Finally playing off its Windows brand name, Microsoft is naming the next version of its flagship operating system "Vista."

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Finally playing off its Windows brand name, Microsoft is naming the next version of its flagship operating system “Vista.”

The name is intended to emphasize selling points of the software, including improvements in the way users can view information stored on a PC. The software that will replace Windows XP in late 2006 had previously been referred to by its code-name “Longhorn.”

“It’s really about your view of the world,” said Windows director, Neil Charney. “The core focus is putting you at the center and letting you focus on what’s important to you.”

Past versions of Windows had numeric names that referred to their version number or year of release, or mysteriously tech-sounding letters such as “NT” and “XP.” The last major release, XP, went on sale in October 2001.

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Microsoft disclosed the name internally yesterday to 11,000 employees at a sales conference in Atlanta and publicly confirmed it this morning. Several enthusiast Web sites and eWeek posted unconfirmed reports of the name last night.

The company also provided more details about the timing of Vista’s release. By Aug. 3 the “beta” version will be distributed to about 100,000 enthusiasts to gather their feedback; invitations were sent to them starting last week.

A more refined test version, or beta 2, may be available more broadly by the end of the year but the timing depends on the feedback received during beta 1.

Microsoft has not said exactly when Vista will go on sale, other than to say it will be widely available in the fall of 2006. The product has been delayed by more than a year, in part because the company shifted resources to improve security of existing products after a call to arms by Chairman Bill Gates in 2002. To avoid being called late, Microsoft only this year began saying for sure that the product will absolutely be released in late 2006, although executives had earlier said 2005 was a target.

Charney said the product team came up with several words that reflected the experience of using the new product and they were hashed out across the company, tested and reviewed with outside consultants. A final decision was made by senior Windows executives.

The name emphasizes the “notion of bringing clarity to your world” and the confidence that clarity provides, Charney said.

“We think that the new version of Windows really deserved a name that was more representative of what it specifically brings to customers,” he said.