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Microsoft Office 2010 Beta Begins for Some

Microsoft has released the first beta of Office 2010 for download, including the beta for the software suite's Web-based versions -- but only for users that have a subscription to either Microsoft's TechNet or MSDN technical services.

Office 2010 began a large-scale, invitation-only, technical preview in July at Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) annual partner conference. At that time, officials said beta testing was set to begin in November.

Given that Microsoft's main developers event -- the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) -- is scheduled for this week in Los Angeles, many observers expect that the partial beta quietly rolled into place Monday will be expanded into the full-scale beta test by the time the PDC is done later this week.

Microsoft made no formal announcement of the early beta, but a company spokesperson confirmed the code has started going out to TechNet and MSDN users.

At least initially, the beta is available to qualified subscribers at the Office 2010 Beta Download page.

The available betas include Office 2010 Home and Business, Office 2010 Professional, and Office 2010 Professional Plus.

The beta code will continue to run until Oct. 31, 2010, according to Microsoft statements online.

The company also reaffirmed what it has said repeatedly in recent months, that Office 2010 will reach general availability, or GA, during the first half of next year. Beginning the beta on schedule appears to reinforce that plan.

Office Web Apps in beta

Additionally, Microsoft released the Web-based versions -- referred to as Office Web Apps -- into beta as well. The Web Apps will run in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari browsers.

At least some reports indicate that Microsoft has only released the 64-bit version of the apps so far. However, the company has said that Office 2010 will come in both 32-bit and 64-bit releases.

Microsoft first introduced Office Web Apps for preview in mid-September, although the preview didn't include all features and components. Notable absences included editing functions in the Word Web App, while the One Note component hasn't been seen yet at all.

Office continues to be a large segment of Microsoft's revenue stream, as it has been for 20 years. Including the Web Apps in the Office 2010 release is a move to cover its bases as Microsoft's applications business finds itself increasingly threatened by Web-based competitors.