Microsoft may release Office 2013 public preview today

Ballmer, top Office exec will kick off WPC with keynote at 9 a.m. ET

Microsoft may announce the first public preview of Office 2013, the likely name for its next productivity suite, at its annual gathering with partners later today.

Although Microsoft has not publicly revealed its plans for Office 2013 -- which has been codenamed "Office 15" -- other than to say that a public beta would be rolled out "later this summer," there are clues that the company will unveil a sneak peek today.

The opening keynote of Microsoft's Worldwide Partners Conference (WPC), which begins at 9 a.m. ET in Toronto, will feature company CEO Steve Ballmer and Kurt DelBene, the president of the Office division, according to the event's website.

More telling, Microsoft used the same conference three years ago to announce Office 2010.

Microsoft introduced Office 2010 on July 13, 2009, the opening day of that year's WPC, then followed up with invitations for a pre-beta build, dubbed "Technical Preview," to select testers.

DelBene was the executive who later announced the first Office 2010 public beta at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference on Nov. 18, 2009.

Office 2013's timeline will be different, as Microsoft seeded developers and testers with a technical preview of the new suite in January.

Most analysts and pundits expect Office 2013 to go on sale early next year, several months after the launch of Windows 8 and its offspring, the tablet-oriented Windows RT.

Microsoft has not yet provided any information about Office 2013's price, on-sale date, or the number of editions that will be sold or their contents. It's unlikely all those details will be divulged today if Microsoft does issue a public preview: The company typically waits until much nearer to the release of a finished product before announcing prices, for example.

If Microsoft follows the same development trajectory for Office 2013 as it did for Office 2010, which went on sale June 5, 2010, it will ship the suite 28 weeks after it delivers a public beta. Assuming a beta appears today, retail availability of Office 2013 would be during the week of January 21-25, 2013.

One thing is different this cycle: Microsoft has kept a much tighter lid on Office 2013 than it did for its predecessor. Office 2010 leaked numerous times to online file-sharing websites, including the July 2009 technical preview, which appeared on several BitTorrent tracking sites the day before Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft will ship at least one version of Office 2013 this year: The edition that runs on Windows RT. Microsoft is including Office 2013 RT with the operating system, which the company has said will power new devices, including its own Surface 10.6-in. tablet. Those devices are, like Windows 8, expected to hit shelves before the end of the year, probably in October or November.

The WPC will have keynotes throughout the week, including today's featuring Ballmer and DelBene, and will be webcast from the conference website. Monday's keynote runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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