Microsoft has simultaneously released beta versions of its three major upcoming software releases -- Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Windows Server, code-named Longhorn.

"We have never had this synchronised in this way before," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates during his keynote at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle. The betas will all be available this week.

Microsoft has been under a lot of fire lately for missing deadlines for the next releases of its core products, from which it derives much of its revenue. The company recently pushed back the consumer releases of both Windows Vista and Office 2007 until January 2007, and some analysts and industry watchers think that the Vista release may slip further. Vista was supposed to be on PCs by late November and December. Longhorn is not expected to be available until the second half of 2007.

Microsoft's goal with releasing all the beta products at once is to allow customers to see how the products can be used together to improve visibility into business processes, worker productivity and collaboration, and data management across an organisation, Gates said.

Mika Krammer, a director in the Windows Division, demonstrated how a business executive might use features of the products together.

For example, she showed how, by running a local search for an Office 2007 document on a Windows Vista machine, she can find documents not only on that machine but also on all the Longhorn servers running on the network.

Also during Gates' keynote, Microsoft showed the first demo of the hypervisor virtualisation technology that will be available for the next version of Longhorn. Hypervisor allows different OSes, such as Windows and Linux, to run on one server. Microsoft on Monday said it would make that technology available natively for Longhorn no more than six months after the release of that version of Windows Server.

Gates stressed that virtualisation is a key focus for Microsoft, which has been building out its portfolio to compete with pure-play virtualisation companies such as VMWare. and XenSource.

"Something we’re making a huge investment in is both how Windows connects up to virtualisation and building those tools ourselves," he said.

Customers said they want to standardise their virtualisation platform on one vendor's technology, which is why Microsoft is working so hard to come up to speed with competitors on virtualisation for Longhorn, said Jeff Woolsey, a lead programme manager for Microsoft's Windows division. Woolsey demonstrated Longhorn's hypervisor technology during Gates' keynote.

Gates said Microsoft's plan to support hardware advancements in virtualisation as well as multicore processors, 64-bit server technology and memory enhancements will allow customers to free up financial resources for other areas of the business.

"If we can free up [network] operational demands, customers can take that money and put it into something else," he said.