Office 2010 Debut, Free Online Edition Near

Microsoft is inching ahead on the next editions of its Office productivity suite, plans to announce today at its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans that it has begun a large-scale technical preview of Office 2010.

Although Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has demoed some features at conferences in the past nine months, this will be the first opportunity for Microsoft’s partners to actually kick the tires.

“Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010 have reached the technical preview engineering milestone,” a Microsoft statement said.

Among the items that Monday’s preview will not include will be the Office Web applications, which provide lightweight versions of the core Office applications — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote — that will run on the Web in Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, and Mozilla FireFox.

However, the Office Web apps are set to begin technical preview next month, a company spokesperson said.

Although the schedule is the same for all the components that fall under the Office 2010 rubric, including the Office suite and Office Web, they are different programs and will require separate invitations to participate in their tech previews, the spokesperson added.

The timing means that the full-fledged beta test of Office 2010 will not start this week as some observers had predicted, though. That is scheduled for later this year, while general availability is still set for the first half of 2010, Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office, told

One caveat, however, is that only invited testers will be able to try the Office 2010 suite plus Visio 2010 immediately. On the list of those who are automatically invitees are the attendees at the partner conference.

“The technical preview will be broad but by invitation-only,” Numoto said, a number that includes “tens of thousands of invitations.”

You can sign up to get on a waitlist for the technical preview at the site of Office 2010, The Movie, an action parody faux movie trailer that promotes the release.

Update on Office’s free Web version

Microsoft first demonstrated Office Web at last fall’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. It began a limited alpha test in January.

Office Web will be available free to some 400 million Windows Live users, as well as on premise to about 90 million Office annuity customers, and via Microsoft’s own hosted Online Services.

“Office Web will be available to nearly a half a billion customers at launch,” Numoto added.

What’s new in Office 2010

Among the additions and changes coming in Office 2010 are the ability to collaborate in real time with another user in Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Additionally, applications will now all share the same “fluent” (i.e., “ribbon”) user interface that the core Office applications adopted with the release of Office 2007.

Outlook also adds an “ignore” button to help the user stop runaway message storms, while PowerPoint adds the ability to edit video and images within the application.

To simplify decisions for customers, the company has also decided to cut the number of editions of Office to five from eight. Finally, Microsoft is also updating its partner readiness tools and training programs.

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