Today Microsoft unveiled an invited beta program for Office 2010 (codenamed Office 14):
Today, at its Worldwide Partner Conference 2009, Microsoft Corp. announced that Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft Visio 2010 and Microsoft Project 2010 have reached the technical preview engineering milestone. Starting today, tens of thousands of people will be invited to test Office and Visio as part of the Technical Preview program.
It’s a private beta limited to invitees, the beta code will apparently not be available until August, and the final products won’t be available until the first half of 2010. You can find out about the usual incremental Office improvements at the Office 2010 Web site, but the biggest buzz is about the Web versions tentatively named Office Web applications (although Microsoft is looking for a new name):
Office Web applications — the lightweight Web browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote — that provide access to documents from virtually anywhere and preserve the look and feel of a document regardless of device.
The company also announced that Office Web applications will be available in three ways: through Windows Live, where more than 400 million consumers will have access to Office Web applications at no cost; on-premises for all Office volume licensing customers including more than 90 million Office annuity customers; and via Microsoft Online Services, where customers will be able to purchase a subscription as part of a hosted offering.
So Microsoft has bitten the bullet and will go free on the Web version of their Office cash cow and the lines are drawn with Google Apps and the other free online office software competitors. Of course, Microsoft really didn’t have much choice if they wanted anyone to pay attention. Stay tuned for a raft of side-by-side comparisons and feature wrangling among the players.