Office 2010 test opens; free Web versions later

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Microsoft Corp. is giving a select group of technology-savvy testers an early peek at Office 2010, but it’s keeping free new Web-based versions of programs such as Word and Excel under wraps a little while longer.

Today’s launch of this “technical preview” indicates Office 2010 is still on track for release in the early part of next year.

Microsoft is updating the highly profitable desktop software package to add more ways for people to work simultaneously on documents, organize their e-mail and edit videos and photos, among other changes. And for the first time, Microsoft is adding free companion versions that run in a Web browser.

Trevor Dierdorff, owner of Amnet, a computer and network service company in Colorado Springs, says his company will be conducting a technical review of the new software.

“We just got it in, and we’ll be looking at it closely in the next few weeks,” he said. “We’ll be able to give a full review in a few weeks.”

Dierdorff said his company also is testing Windows 7, an operating system that he expects people to buy instead of Windows Vista.

Microsoft Office is by far the most popular software package worldwide for making presentations, spreadsheets and other documents, and its dominance is in no immediate danger. But the company is trying to defend its turf against a long-developing trend in which software is moving from the desktop to the Web. Google Inc. has been pushing its own free, Web-based programs for more than two years, though it has yet to gain much traction with corporations.

During 2007, Microsoft launched something called Office Live Workspace, which lets people view and comment on documents, but it lacked tools for creating and editing files.

The Office 2010 Web programs will be Microsoft’s first real attempt at an online office package. The browser-based programs are on a different development cycle from the desktop programs, and Microsoft says the Web versions’ “technical preview” will be ready in August.

The Web version of Office 2010 will be free to consumers, in a version supported by advertising. Microsoft will let companies with long-term Office licensing agreements install the online programs on their servers for no extra charge. Companies also will be able to buy subscriptions to access the programs through Microsoft-operated data centers.

Microsoft has not said how much Office 2010 will cost, only that it will sell five variations on the suite, two for big corporations and three available to consumers and small businesses.

Microsoft says people attending its annual partner conference this week in New Orleans will be among the tens of thousands invited to try the new software.