Microsoft: No Office 2010 beta for you

Beta won't be offered to the public; final will offer first-ever 64-bit edition

Microsoft confirmed today that it will not open Office 2010 beta testing to the general public, but will instead limit the preview to a large group of invite-only users starting in the third quarter of 2009.

The technology preview, as Microsoft will call the beta program, will involve "thousands of users," a company spokeswoman said. But it will be a closed group, in that Microsoft will not post a beta version of Office 2010 to its site for just anyone to download.

"At this point, there is no plan" to offer the beta to the general public, she added when asked whether Microsoft would release a preview to any and all.

Office 2010, the moniker Microsoft announced today for its next application suite -- the bundle was previously code-named Office 14 -- will be issued in beta form to workers in Microsoft's largest corporate accounts as well as to consumers, the spokeswoman said.

By omitting a general beta, Microsoft breaks with the approach it used to test Office 2007, the dramatically revamped suite it introduced to business customers in late 2006 and launched in retail stores in January 2007. For Office 2007, Microsoft delivered two betas: one in March 2006 and the second in September. In between, it let users try out the suite's applications from within their browsers.

The Microsoft spokeswoman also confirmed today that Microsoft will ship two separate versions of Office 2010: one suitable for 32-bit operating systems and another that offers applications written specifically for 64-bit.

Late last month, ZDNet blogger Ed Bott rooted out references in a recent build of Windows 7 to a 64-bit edition of Office 2010, which was still called Office 14 at the time. Last Friday, Rafael Rivera, perhaps best known as one of two bloggers who sparked criticism of Windows 7's redesigned User Account Control (UAC) two months ago, reported that an Office 2010 add-on posted to the Microsoft download site was specific to 64-bit. The add-on, dated April 9, 2009, and labeled "Microsoft Office ScreenTip Language (64-bit)," was available as late as early Wednesday but has since been pulled from the site.

Office 2010 will be the first Microsoft suite to boast a version that natively supports 64-bit.

Microsoft has said it will ship Office 2010 for Windows sometime in the first half of next year.

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