Microsoft reveals Office 2010 timing, technical preview

People will be able to test Office Web apps in August, the company said

As expected, Microsoft on Monday revealed a test version of the next round of its Office suite of products, which will be available in the first half of 2010.

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At its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Microsoft released a preview of Office 2010 and Visio 2010 to all attendees as part of a Technical Preview program.

Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and Project 2010 are also in technical preview, but to a more limited number of participants, the company said. Another Office 2010 product, Exchange Server, has been in beta since April.

Office remains the de facto standard for office productivity among both businesses and consumers.

However, companies like Google and others are trying to challenge Microsoft with free Web-based versions of applications similar to Word, PowerPoint and Excel, which make up the core of Office.

What Microsoft didn't release at the show, and what many expected, was a test preview of Microsoft's answer to these challenges -- Office Web apps, a free, Web-based version of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.

However, Microsoft did demonstrate the online suite at the conference during a keynote by Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop, who said a technical preview would be available in August, followed sometime after by a public beta.

Microsoft first unveiled Office Web apps at its Professional Developers Conference late last year. Many had expected Microsoft to reveal its plan for the Web-based apps sooner.

However, next to its Windows OS, Office remains a primary driver of Microsoft's revenue, so the company has a vested interest in keeping Office on the desktop to cater to its install base and keep its dominant position in the market.

Customers will be able to get Office Web apps in a number of ways.

It will be free for anyone who wants to use the basic version, and business customers can get a paid version that they can either run on-premise on their own SharePoint Server back-end or as a hosted service from Microsoft.

Microsoft is making the apps available in a variety of ways so hundreds of millions of users will have access to them immediately upon release, Elop said.

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