Microsoft yesterday said it would begin shipping early copies of Office 2010 to invite-only users in July, and has begun taking names for possible invitations to the preview.
Bill Veghte, the senior vice-president who runs the Windows business group, announced the upcoming Technical Preview at TechEd, the Microsoft conference that opened Monday in Los Angeles.
Microsoft has dubbed the technical preview as an “engineering milestone” leading towards release-to-manufacturing (RTM) that Office 2010 and related products will reach in July 2009.
The also company unveiled a new blog, on Tuesday, dedicated to the suite and a page where users can register for the preview.
The blog seeks to respond to common questions Microsoft anticipates about the launch of Office 2010 – and offers users the opportunity to ask further questions or comment.
“Anything that we can share at this point, we will,” said Reed Shaffner, the manager of the preview program.
For now, the blog offers the following information:
- The beta of Office 2010 – which is currently slated for a first-half 2010 release – will ship in both 32- and 64-bit editions;
- It will run on Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, and work on any PC that can run its predecessor, Office 2007.
“You don’t need to replace hardware that is capable of running 2007, it will support Office 2010,” according to Shaffner.
“Like Windows 7 has demonstrated, we realize that taking advantage of the hardware you already own is just as important as supporting all the new technology coming out.”
While users will not be required to upgrade 32-bit PCs and laptops to 64-bit hardware to run Office 2010 suite products, the blog notes that “certain hardware configurations and operating system versions” currently deployed by customers may require an upgrade to run server and client products.
However, the Microsoft executive was coy about specifics.
“We aren’t ready to start demoing and sharing all of the features quite yet,” he said. “[But] we have heard the feedback loud and clear that requirements for running our software needs to be available ASAP.”
Microsoft has said that it will follow July’s invite-only preview with a public beta available to all. “The development pace for Office  is no different than years past,” said a Microsoft spokesman last month.
“Technical Preview is usually invite-only, but still goes out to hundreds of thousands of people, and there is a public beta cycle where millions can download and try Office,” the spokesman said.
Among the notable changes in Office are a revamped Outlook e-mail client that will feature the 2007-esque “ribbon” interface, and the simultaneous availability of new, lightweight online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
Previously, Microsoft said it has invested $7.7 billion in Office R&D, twice that of Windows, in an effort to ward off encroaching rivals such as OpenOffice.org and Google Docs.
People interested in applying for the Technical Preview can register by filling out a form on Microsoft’s Web site.
The preview will include Word 2010, Excel 2010, Outlook 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Communicator 2010, Access 2010, InfoPath 2010 and Publisher 2010.
Microsoft has not disclosed pricing or even the number of different Office 2010 editions it expects to ship next year.
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.