Microsoft backtracks, says Office 2010 beta will be public

If schedule mimics Office 2007's, open beta could show in November

Microsoft Thursday promised that it would provide at least one public beta to Office 2010, saying that its assertion to the contrary Wednesday was "the wrong impression."

"Although we are not disclosing a date for the public beta, there definitely will be one," a company spokesman said Thursday morning. "This development cycle for Office is no different than years past; 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."

On Wednesday, a different company spokesperson said that Microsoft had no plans to distribute a beta to the general public -- as it had done with Office 2007 -- but said that a closed test involving "thousands" would begin during the third quarter of 2009.

The spokesman Thursday declined to outline a timetable for Office 2010's public beta, to specify the number of betas Microsoft will produce and to say what it will be called. "We have not locked on that yet," he said, referring to the last of the three questions.

Microsoft delivered two public betas for Office 2007, the first in March 2006 and the second in September, dubbing the latter "Beta 2 Technical Refresh." In between the two dates, it let users try out the suite from within their browsers and charged US$1.50 to download the preview. The latter move, Microsoft said in July 2006, was because "the beta 2 downloads have exceeded our goals," prompting it to "implement a cost-recovery measure."

The spokesman Thursday said Microsoft had not decided whether it would mimic that for-a-fee scheme with Office 2010. "We are still working out the delivery options and will share additional details later this year," he said in a follow-up e-mail.

Microsoft first seeded a group of invitation-only testers with Office 2007 Beta 1 in November 2005.

If the company runs Office 2010 through testing at the same pace as it did Office 2007, it wouldn't release the new suite to manufacturing until the third quarter of 2010, with the first public beta in the November 2009-January 2010 time frame.

However, since Microsoft has pegged a final release of Office 2010 in the first half of 2010, assuming the same kind of schedule as three years ago and a ship date at the end of the six-month window, it could issue a beta as early as November 2009 and as late as April 2010.

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