updated 9/1/2006 8:55:38 PM ET 2006-09-02T00:55:38

Microsoft Corp. has released a near-final version of its new Windows Vista operating system to a select group of technical experts who are testing the software.

It marks a major milestone in Microsoft's efforts to get the much-delayed system out the door.

(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal News.)

In a note posted on its Windows Vista blog Friday, the Redmond-based company said it planned to distribute the test version, called release candidate 1, more broadly to other testers next week.

The world's largest software company also is expected to release more details about the system.

Microsoft will decide whether to release another test version of Vista after getting feedback on this iteration.

Microsoft has said that it plans to deliver Vista to big business clients in November and to consumers in January. But the company has also said that it wouldn't hesitate to delay the software again if major problems crop up.

Vista will be the first new version of the Windows operating system in five years.

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