Microsoft shutters Office 2010 preview, preps public beta

Message to testers hints at launch next week of open beta

Microsoft Corp. may launch the public beta of Office 2010 as early as next week, according to e-mail messages received Tuesday by people who have been testing the company's next application suite.

Last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer promised that his company would roll out a beta in November. Microsoft has said it will distribute millions of copies of the Office 2010 public beta.

Microsoft launched an invitation-only Technical Preview of Office 2010 in July and used its new Click-to-Run technology to deliver that build to testers. Click-to-Run "streams" pieces of a suite to users who begin a download, letting them start using the suite within minutes. While users work with the suite, the remainder of the code is downloaded in the background.

It's unclear whether Microsoft will use Click-to-Run to provide the public beta later this month. The company has said, however, that it would rely on the technology when it ships the final version next year and offers a limited-time trial at the same time.

In an e-mail sent to Technical Preview testers Tuesday, Microsoft announced it had shut off the Click-to-Run downloads and was preparing for the public beta.

"We are starting to prepare the Microsoft Connect site for the next Office 2010 release that we will also be asking for you to provide feedback on," read the message, which Computerworld has obtained. "You will receive an email next week with more information about the new release."

Microsoft also told testers that they needed to uninstall the Technical Preview before they grabbed the public beta. "We strongly advise that you backup [sic] all of your data files, before you uninstall the Office 2010 Click-to-Run Technical Preview release," the company said.

Microsoft again declined to spell out when the public beta would be available. "As we have said in the past, Office 2010 will enter a public beta this month, and we are still on track to meet that goal," a spokeswoman said in an e-mail reply to queries today. "We have nothing further to share as far as a specific date."

One of the questions still unanswered is whether Microsoft will charge users to download the Office 2010 public beta, a tactic it used with the second beta of Office 2007, when it let customers try out the suite from within their browsers for free but charged them $1.50 to download the preview.

Microsoft is also testing the online edition of Office 2010, dubbed Office Web Apps, which will be available at no charge to millions next year. Office Web Apps offers lightweight versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are intended to compete with Google Docs and Zoho's online applications.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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