New Microsoft Office hits 'RTM' milestone

The new Office is complete and will be generally available in the first quarter next year, Microsoft said

The next version of Microsoft Office is complete and will start to reach enterprise customers next month, with general availability planned for early next year, Microsoft said Thursday.

The Office engineering team marked the "release to manufacturing" of the new Office on Thursday afternoon, Microsoft said in a blog post.

"This milestone means the coding and testing phase of the project is complete and we are now focused on releasing the new Office via multiple distribution channels to our consumer and business customers," Microsoft said.

It's a big update that includes a traditional desktop version, called Office 2013, and a cloud-based version called Office 365. It's also an important update that Microsoft hopes will help it stave off online rivals like Google Docs.

General availability is planned for the first quarter next year, which is when most consumers will be able to buy the new suite.

Businesses get earlier access under the following arrangements, Microsoft said:

-- Office 365 Enterprise customers will start to get new capabilities with the next service update, starting in November.

-- Volume licensing customers with Software Assurance will be able to download Office 2013 by mid-November, along with other Office products such as SharePoint 2013, Lync 2013 and Exchange 2013.

-- Developers and other IT professionals will be able to download Office 2013 through their TechNet or MSDN subscriptions by mid-November.

In addition, as Microsoft has said, people who buy tablets running Windows RT -- the version of Windows 8 for Arm-based processors -- will get some of the new Office applications included with those devices. They're due out later this month, along with Windows 8.

Microsoft said it will give more details about Office 2013, including presumably the pricing, later. The preview version is still available for testing at office.com/preview.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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