Bill Gates and a host of Microsoft partners were on hand at the British Library Tuesday to launch Windows Vista in the UK yesterday and to show off a selection of new tools designed specifically for the new OS.

The UK launch completed a series of day-long events during which Microsoft executives have hyped the new features in Vista – Gates having already attended the Vista launch in New York Monday.

Those at this morning's event were shown a number of new Vista-based gadgets, but it was a collaboration with the British Library that was given top billing. Gates and Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, kicked off proceedings by announcing the “digital reunification” of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. The two notebooks, known as the Codices, are owned by the British Library (Codex Arundel) and Bill Gates (Codex Leicester) respectively, but will soon be accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

A British Library technology called ‘Turning The Pages 2.0’, which runs on Windows Vista, has made it possible to bring the two parts of da Vinci’s notebook together for the first time since his death in 1519, said Brindley. It forms part of the British Library’s efforts to digitize the 150 million manuscripts and books held in its basements and put them into a format that’s accessible to all.

Brindley said the British Library has been working on the project since 1997, but revealed that digitising each book could take several weeks. However, with the help of Windows Vista, that process can be whittled down to a few hours. Furthermore, she said that Vista’s new graphical subsystem, Windows Presentation Foundation, has proven the ideal mechanism to place that content in the hands of the public.

This morning’s demonstration showed how users will be able to pick up, rotate and zoom in on virtual books onscreen in what Brindley described as a “a first glimpse of a genuinely limitless research environment”.

Microsoft UK executives also took to the stage to show off the key features of Vista – many of which are detailed here – before Windows client marketing manager Simon Darby demonstrated how third-party developers can use Vista to push their services to computer users.

Betfair, easyJet, Franklin Covey, IMG Media and ITN have all developed applications that reside on Vista’s Sidebar, giving the companies’ a permanent presence on Vista desktops without interfering with users’ other tasks.

Gates said Windows Vista’s launch today marked “just the beginning” of the development work that will take place on the platform over the next few years. “The Windows environment has always had ten times as many applications as any other,” he said. “Every time we move the platform up to a new level we’re amazed at what the software industry does with it.”