Office 2010 clears last hurdle to release

The software will start to be rolled out at the end of the month

Microsoft Office 2010 hit a big milestone on Friday with its "release to manufacturing," paving the way for the software's delivery to customers starting on April 27, Microsoft said Friday.

Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010 have all hit RTM status, meaning the final code is locked down and ready to be delivered to PC makers, burned onto discs or made available for download at Microsoft's Web site.

The products will now be rolled out in stages. Volume license customers with Software Assurance will be able to download them in English from the Volume Licensing Service Center starting April 27, and volume customers without Software Assurance will be able to get them from Microsoft partners starting May 1, according to a Microsoft blog post.

Office 2010 will hit retail stores in the U.S. in June, and those who can't stand the wait can even pre-order it now from Microsoft's online store. Microsoft didn't provide a schedule for foreign-language versions of the 2010 products, but they are likely to follow close behind.

There are three editions of Office 2010 listed at the online store: Office Professional, priced at US$499.99; Office Home and Business, which omits the Publisher and Access programs and is priced at $279.99; and Office Home and Student, which omits Publisher, Access and Outlook and is priced at $149.99.

No big Microsoft release is complete without an "official launch event," so the head of the company's Business Division, Stephen Elop, will host an event on May 12 that will be broadcast from "the largest studio in the world: NBC Studios in New York City," Microsoft said.

RTM is a big day for the Microsoft engineers who have been slogging away to get the software out the door. It's also a big day for Microsoft, which still gets a hefty chunk of its profits from Office, even as low-cost, Web-based alternatives from Google, Zoho and others gain in popularity.

In fact, some of the biggest changes to Office 2010 are online. The software includes Office Web Apps, which are lightweight versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote that can be accessed through a browser from desktop PCs and smartphones.

Microsoft thanked the "more than 5,000 organizations and partners" who helped test the 2010 products. It said 7.5 million people have downloaded the beta of Office 2010 since its release in November, three times the number who downloaded the Office 2007 beta.

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