Office 2010 Tech Preview Unveiled at Microsoft Partner Event

Final release expected next year

Microsoft Office 2010 has reached the technical preview testing stage, company officials announced on Monday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.

Attendees at the New Orleans event this week have access to the Office 2010 bits. For others wanting to test the new productivity suite, Microsoft provides a Web form to sign up for the waiting list, which can be accessed here.

Various Office 2010 productivity suite components -- Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Project, Publisher, and Visio -- all hit the 2010 technical preview milestone today, along with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. The schedule for Microsoft Exchange 2010 is slightly ahead of the pack, with a public beta announced back in April.

Office 2010 is expected to be released as a public beta sometime later this calendar year, according to Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft Office products, in a video discussion. Microsoft officials expect that Office 2010 will appear as a final product in the first half of 2010.

The main theme Microsoft emphasized with today's announcement is that Office 2010 will be accessible by PC, phone, and browser. The new enabling factor is something called "Office Web applications," which are lightweight versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word that can run in a Web browser. Supported browsers currently include Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari.

The unveiling of Office Web applications represents Microsoft's long-awaited move into the lightweight hosted applications space. Competitors, such as Google and Zoho, have offered Office-like applications that work in a browser for years.

Microsoft will offer its Office Web applications to consumer users for free. Users just have to sign up for a Windows Live account. Businesses won't have free access, but they will be able to subscribe to Microsoft Online Services, which will host the Office Web applications and provide access to them as a service.

All Microsoft Office 2010 volume licensees will have access to Office Web apps. In addition, these licensees will have the option of running Office Web apps from their own on-premises servers.

Microsoft will incorporate the "ribbon" menu system, first introduced in Office 2007, in a number of future products. Those products include the Outlook 2010 mail and calendar solution, the SharePoint 2010 collaboration app, Project 2010 planning app and Visio 2010 diagramming solution.

Document collaboration will be a feature in Office 2010. For instance, users can edit video in PowerPoint 2010 and then share or broadcast those videos. A Microsoft Office Backstage view lets users quickly access features associated with Office 2010 files, enabling integration with other Office or SharePoint apps.

The Office 2010 announcements were part of a keynote address in New Orleans by Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's Business Division. Elop outlined other Microsoft initiatives of note to partners. For instance, he played up partner opportunities in Microsoft's "Software plus Services" world, in which Microsoft or its partners will offer customers hosted and on-premises software solutions, or a combination of the two approaches.

Some products, such as Microsoft Office Communication Server, have sustained growth in tough economic times, Elop noted. He also touted Microsoft Dynamics products, saying that more than one million Dynamics seats have been sold, and that Microsoft was winning deals over and Oracle's Siebel CRM.

Elop said that Microsoft now has more than 17,000 SharePoint customers and that the company has sold about 100 million SharePoint licenses. Social computing via SharePoint is an area of rapid innovation, as well as a Microsoft partner opportunity, he added.

Elop suggested that Microsoft is making good on its "democratizing business intelligence" theme, in which business users of Microsoft products will be better able to conduct data analyses on the fly. One such feature in Excel, called "Sparklines," lets users slice up and compose data.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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