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Gates contends Microsoft’s new Windows system, out Tuesday, has ’wows all over the product’

NEW YORK — Acrobatics, blaring music and plenty of hype accompanied Microsoft Corp.’s long-delayed debut of its new Windows Vista operating system.
    Hours before the software went on sale in New York, dancers clad in Microsoft colors dangled from ropes high above street level and unfurled flags to form the red, green, blue and yellow Windows logo against a building wall. At a swank midtown eatery, speakers pumped out a hit from hip-hop hotshot Snoop Dogg before Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, took to stage.
    ‘‘Vista is the center, the launching point for the next generation of connected entertainment in the home,’’ Ballmer said.
    Vista was set to go on sale around the globe Tuesday, along with new versions of Microsoft Exchange e-mail software and the flagship Office business suite, which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Several retailers had even scheduled midnight openings.
    But unlike the recent launches of next-generation game machines like Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3, customers haven’t been camping out for days.
    ‘‘When I look at Windows Vista, I see a technology that is interesting, that is relevant, but to some extent is evolutionary,’’ said Al Gillen, an analyst at the technology research group IDC. ‘‘I do not believe it will create a lot of motivation for people to rush out and get a new operating system.’’
    In an interview, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the company actually wasn’t pushing midnight sales events — after all, the software will be available as a download over the Web for the first time. Even that route will be relatively rarely taken — Ballmer acknowledged that, as in the past, most consumers will switch to Vista only when they buy new computers.
    More than five years in the making, Vista was released for businesses Nov. 30, but the unveiling for consumers of the latest edition of Windows — which runs more than 90 percent of the world’s PCs — only came Tuesday. Vista retails for $100 to $400, depending on the version and whether the user is upgrading from Windows XP.
    The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker contends that Vista is such a huge improvement over previous computing platforms that users inevitably say ‘‘Wow’’ when they see it.
    Gates ticked off some examples, such as how Vista presents a slick 3-D graphical user interface and document icons that give at-a-glance previews. Gates said the next wow comes when people start using a system-wide search program that Microsoft’s engineers built into both the operating system and new versions of Office.
    Vista comes as changing dynamics of computing — notably the rise of open-source software and Web-based services that replicate what traditionally could be done only on a desktop computer — are threatening Microsoft’s dominance in the industry.
    But Gates contended that the operating system has a higher profile than ever before, as the PC has morphed from a souped-up typewriter to a networked entertainment center, personal media library and gateway to the Internet.
    ‘‘When people think about their PC, they think about Windows even more than who the manufacturer is. That determines how it looks, how you navigate, what the applications are that are available,’’ Gates told The Associated Press. And in this case, Vista has folded in programs that users once bought separately — including automated backup systems and some spyware protections.
    Microsoft built Vista so that different layers could be upgraded separately, so it’s possible that this is the last massive, all-in-one update for Windows. No matter how Microsoft chooses to roll out Vista’s successor, Ballmer said there’s still work to be done.
    ‘‘There’s so many areas in which we need innovation. Developers need a richer platform if we’re going to get speech, voice, natural language, and more rich 3-D-type graphics into the user interface,’’ Ballmer said. Plus, the technologies around the PC — chips, storage, high-definition DVD will all evolve, he said. ‘‘The operating system will need to evolve with them.’’
    ‘‘Frankly, we’ve got a very long list of stuff our engineers want to do, a long list of stuff that the companies here want us to do,’’ he said.
    Over the weekend, Dell Inc. started taking orders for PCs with Vista. Kevin Rollins, Dell’s chief executive, said the company’s Web site saw a 20 percent jump in traffic, with ‘‘tens of thousands of copies’’ of Vista sold for delivery Tuesday or later.
    In Tokyo, about 80 people lined up Monday night at the Bic Camera Department Store to become among the world’s first consumers to own Vista. Celebrities and executives were on hand as a large-screen TV displayed a countdown to the midnight launch (10 a.m. EST).
    The second person in line, Fumihiko Koyama, 33, waited three hours and was hoping the new operating system will make his work in Web design easier.
    ‘‘My expectations are very high for Vista,’’ he said. ‘‘I want to try it out because it’s new.’’
    For a Tuesday morning store celebration, DSG International PLC’s flagship PC World store in central London hired costumed characters, including Sherlock Holmes for security and a movie star for multimedia.
    PC World spokesman Hamish Thompson said some retailers are banking on Vista to push customers toward the higher-end machines needed to run Vista — which imposes such hardware requirements as 1 gigabyte of system memory, or RAM.
    Microsoft shares fell 7 cents to close at $30.53 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
    ———
    Associated Press Writers Hans Greimel in Tokyo and Raphael G. Satter in London contributed to this story.

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