The improvements to Microsoft Corp.’s next version of Windows might be incremental, but they could go a long way toward improving the software giant’s reputation, reports the Los Angeles Times. Microsoft on Jan. 7 released to programmers a trial version of Windows 7, the follow-up to the Windows Vista operating system, which bruised the company with bad reviews and disappointing sales. A version of Windows 7 for consumers to test on their personal computers is expected Jan. 9. New features are designed to make operating a computer less frustrating and to work better with gadgets. Microsoft is betting that the final version of Windows 7, expected to arrive in stores in a year, will address some of the flaws that have dogged Vista–and have been lampooned famously in Apple Inc. commercials. "We are on track to deliver the best Windows ever," Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said during his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "Windows will remain the center of people’s technological solar system." Microsoft also edged out rival Google Inc. on two search-engine deals that Ballmer announced Jan. 7. The first was with Dell Inc. to load Microsoft’s search engine on new PCs. The second was an exclusive five-year agreement to install Windows Live search software on most cell phones sold by Verizon Wireless, which, when it completes its acquisition of Alltel Corp., will be the nation’s largest cellular carrier, with more than 71 million subscribers…

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