Bill Gates announced that Beta 2.0 versions of Vista, Longhorn Server and 2007 Office would be available from today at the WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering) conference in Seattle. Releasing three test products simultaneously is a first for Microsoft.

The betas are "a major step toward delivering the platform that will drive the next decade of computing", Gates said.

The latest release of Vista offers improved security, greater functionality for mobile machines and enhanced collaboration tools.

By default, user accounts will run without administrator privileges and permission has to be explicitly granted for software to modify system settings or program files. Internet Explorer will run at a lower level than even a standard user, so the potential for malicious code to damage a system is significantly reduced.

Power management has been improved and machines will default to standby rather than off when the user shuts down. The Mobility Center brings together all the items a laptop user may want to change when on the move – such as power management, screen brightness and wireless settings.

To share information on the screen, Network Projection allows a user's desktop to be sent to another machine or a Vista-compatible wireless projector on the network.

Windows Meeting Space allows users to work on documents together, using the built-in wireless facilities in their machines. Once the machines are connected any changes made to shared documents will be sent to all users in the session.

Microsoft aims to release final versions of Vista to business users by November this year and anticipates machines with Vista pre-installed will be available to buy from January next year.