Microsoft launches beta tests of free Office 2010, 'streaming' delivery

Previews ad-supported and virtualized editions of new suite

Microsoft has launched new betas for its free Office suite and for the "streaming" technology it will use to deliver some paid versions of Office 2010 next year.

As first reported by ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft has kicked off a private beta of Office Starter 2010, the ad-supported edition that the company will offer computer makers in lieu of the ancient Microsoft Works, which has been discontinued.

Office Starter will include on-screen advertisements, the first desktop edition of Microsoft's longstanding suite to do so. The ads will be limited to a space in the lower-right-hand of the applications' windows.

Microsoft announced Office Starter 2010 more than a month ago, but said it would not be available to the public until the completed Office 2010 suite ships sometime in the first half of next year.

Office Starter will include reduced-functionality versions of Word and Excel, the suite's word processor and spreadsheet, but will not be a time-limited trial. Microsoft hopes that customers will like what they see and pony up the money for the real deal, such as the entry-level Office Home and Student 2010 or the more expensive Office Home and Business 2010. Prices for Office 2010 have not been set, and last month Microsoft refused to say whether Office Starter users will receive a discount if they purchase a for-a-fee edition.

Today, Microsoft confirmed that it has launched a preview of Office Starter 2010 to what a company spokesman said was a "select group of users."

Also included in the Starter beta, said the spokesman, is a new feature called "Office Starter to Go" that lets testers run Word Starter and Excel Starter from a USB flash drive. According to Foley, Office Starter to Go will run from the flash drive on Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems.

Microsoft also sent invitations to a larger group of testers for a preview of the "Click-To-Run" mechanism it plans to use to deliver some final editions of Office 2010 next year. In messages sent to people who had tested the Technical Preview of Office 2010 last summer, Microsoft urged them to try the Click-To-Run delivery.

Last weekend in an FAQ posted to its Web site, Microsoft hinted that it would offer the public a beta of Home and Business using Click-To-Run, but those plans have been put on hold, said Takeshi Numoto, the corporate vice president for Office, in an interview earlier this week . "We're working to make that available as soon as possible," said Numoto.

Click-To-Run is a new technology that Microsoft debuted in the Technical Preview that went out to testers last July. Essentially, it "streams" pieces of the suite as users begin a download, letting them start running the suite within minutes. It also runs Office 2010 in a virtualized environment, separating it from the rest of Windows and other applications.

Unlike the Office 2010 Beta that went live on Wednesday, the Click-To-Run version of Office 2010 Home and Business must be installed alongside existing versions of Office on the PC; it's not possible to upgrade from Office 2003 or Office 2007 to the beta of 2010. Testers must also first uninstall the Technical Preview before installing the Click-To-Run edition of the beta.

The beta of Click-To-Run Office Home and Business 2010 includes Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. Like the standard download of Office 2010 Beta, the version delivered via Click-To-Run expires Oct. 31, 2010.

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Tags MicrosoftvirtualisationMicrosoft Office 2010

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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