Microsoft: Office 2007 released to manufacturing

Free 60-day trial versions available to Australian customers in December

Microsoft Monday confirmed that it has completed work on the system code for Office 2007 and released it to manufacturing.

Customers in Canada and the United States can start downloading Office 2007 on Dec. 1. That is one day after the company plans to officially launch the updated productivity suite along with the Windows Vista operating system and the Exchange Server 2007 communications software in New York City.

Customers in another 13 countries will be able to download free, 60-day trial versions "soon" after the beginning of December, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman who declined to give further details. Those countries will include the U.K., Ireland, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico.

Customers can activate their trial copy of Office 2007 within the first two months by paying for it online or at a retail store. With Office 2003, Microsoft's last Office release, only Americans and Canadians were allowed to download free trials of the software.

Customers won't be able to find Office 2007 on retail store shelves or get it preinstalled on PCs until early 2007, said the spokeswoman. That timetable means Microsoft is missing what many consider to be the key holiday shopping season.

Like Windows Vista, Office 2007 will be available to corporate volume license customers via Web or on CD starting Nov. 30.

Three and a half million people downloaded Beta 2 Technical Refresh of Office 2007, making it the largest Office beta program to date, according to the company. Other users chose to test-drive the suite at Microsoft's Web site using the Internet Explorer Web browser.

A company representative said that no new features have been introduced since the Beta 2. The company did, however, announce a new service -- SMS Link for Office Outlook 2007 -- that lets Outlook 2007 users send and receive e-mail, contacts, appointments and tasks to mobile phones as SMS text messages.

Office 2007 includes a revamped user interface, greater support for non-English languages and more collaboration tools and has been marked by controversy over a significantly revamped interface in many of the applications familiar menus and toolbars have been replaced with the Ribbon, a colorful tabbed bar divided into groups of icons and buttons organized by task.

Microsoft praised the quantity and quality of the feedback from beta testers of the software suite. According to Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, "The 2007 Microsoft Office system RTM [release to manufacturing] completes the most significant improvements to the products in more than a decade."

The suite will ship in seven editions. Microsoft Office Basic includes Word, Excel, and Outlook and is available only from OEMs, meaning it will most likely be the version preloaded on new desktops and notebooks. The new Office Home and Student (H&S) version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

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