Microsoft has released what it expects to be the final release of Windows Vista before the operating system is sent to manufacturing for distribution.

Windows Vista Release Candidate 2 (RC2), which is build number 5744, is being made available to 100,000 Customer Preview Program (CPP) participants, as well as to subscribers and members of TechBeta, TechNet, TAP and MSDN.

The company said that this newest build includes bug fixes, performance improvements, better application compatibility and "fit and finish" work - tweaks to the look and feel of the operating system.

Microsoft also said that it is on target for making Windows Vista available to volume licensing customers in November and to consumers in January 2007. However, it added that "the final delivery will be based on quality" - in other words, if it finds serious issues with the operating system, it would delay its planned launch. The company does not expect that to happen, however.

The company will continue to support RC1 through the official Windows Vista launch, and adds that RC1 can be used as the basis for logo certification.