Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has announced that a test version of the U.S. software titan's Windows 7 operating system will be available worldwide on Friday.
"We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever," Ballmer said while making an opening keynote speech at a premier Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
"We are putting in all the right ingredients: simplicity, reliability and speed."
Developers and Microsoft partner companies can begin testing Windows 7 immediately, Ballmer said.
"On Friday, we will make the beta available worldwide so users can come online and try Windows 7 at home. I encourage you all to go out and download it."
The eagerly-anticipated successor to Microsoft's Vista operating system will streamline everyday tasks, cut boot-up times, extend battery life and make it simple to weave "smart" devices into home networks, according to Microsoft.
Ballmer said that the Windows software at the heart of Microsoft's empire is being "transformed" into a program that connects networks of computers, mobile telephones and applications hosted as online services.
A "Play-to" feature in Windows 7 enables easy streaming of music, video and digital photos in home computer networks, according to Microsoft.
Media Player and Media Center programs in Windows 7 support more media formats for playing video, music and other digital content and will synch to a wider array of devices, according to Microsoft.
Windows 7 software is tailored to handle touch screen controls coming into vogue as replacements for the computer mouse.
Ballmer also used the keynote stage to reveal that Microsoft has struck new partnerships with U.S. telecom firm Verizon and hot online social-networking service Facebook.
Facebook members can link their profiles to Windows Live accounts and automatically share photos, video and other content they post at Facebook.
"You can now connect Facebook with Windows Live," Ballmer said. "Facebook content can be published to Windows Live."
Microsoft last year paid $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook.
Verizon is using Microsoft Live Search to handle Internet searches for its mobile telephone service users in the United States.
Ballmer said a Windows Live Essentials free suite of software for email, instant messaging, and photo sharing is available and is even being pre-installed on personal computers made by Dell.
This was Ballmer's first time filling the shoes of recently-retired Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose CES opening keynotes had become a tradition.
Ballmer told consumer electronics industry insiders filling the audience that these brutal economic times hold opportunity for technology firms that position themselves for an inevitable recovery.
"No matter how long this recession lasts I believe there is no turning back from the technical world," said Ballmer, adding that Microsoft plans to continue investing heavily in research.
"At the end of the day, it is the power of ideas and innovation that drive us forward regardless of economic environment. The opportunity to change lives with technology is more powerful than ever before."
Ballmer sees special opportunity in the convergence of "the three screens people use every day -- personal computer, mobile telephone and television."© Wire reports