Microsoft has released a technical preview of its next version of Office and revealed that web-based versions of key applications will be available at no cost to subscribers of Windows Live services.
The software giant announced the availability of a technical preview release of Office 2010 for select customers and partners at its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans.
Microsoft also detailed new features of Office 2010, and revealed that the suite will come in fewer editions than Office 2007.
However, perhaps the most significant part of the announcement was that web-based versions of the Office applications will be available via Windows Live once the suite ships, sometime in the first half of 2010.
"Our goal with Office 2010 is to deliver the best productivity experience across the PC, phone and browser, to enable customers to work anywhere and to work better together," said Chris Adams, Office Client product manager at Microsoft UK.
"We talked to customers about their needs, and found great demand to fit in with the more flexible ways people now work, such as telecommuting. So, in addition to the rich client, we're making Office available via the web and improving the mobile experience."
Although Adams said that Microsoft has not yet finalised its business model for the Office Web Applications, he confirmed that browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote will be available "ultimately for free to over 400 million consumers over Windows Live", and also as part of its subscription-based online productivity services for business customers.
The web-based applications, which are lightweight versions of the full Office tools, are not included in the technical preview released today, but are expected to be available for testing sometime in August, according to Adams.
For the full on-premise Office 2010, Microsoft has focused on the importance of the document, and on making common tasks easier and quicker.
Word, OneNote and PowerPoint now support multi-user authoring, according to Adams, while Outlook has gained features designed to make it easier to manage email, especially for users having to deal with large volumes of messages.
One such feature, QuickSteps, is described as "mini macros" that allow users to automate tasks such as responses to messages.
Microsoft Word has gained better image processing capabilities, such as the ability to remove the background from an embedded photograph, while PowerPoint's image editing tools have been extended to cover video.
"We see video becoming a much bigger part of presentations," said Adams.
Operations such as cut-and-paste have been improved with previews, and applications now offer options such as pasting as plain text or using the same formatting as the source of the text.
A new Backstage view shows all the elements associated with a document when the user clicks the Office button in applications, Adams said, and Office 2010 packaging will also be simplified.
For volume licensing customers, Office Professional Plus gains OneNote and SharePoint Workspace (formerly Groove), while Office Standard also now includes OneNote. Both will include rights to the web-based applications.
For smaller businesses and consumers, there will be Office Professional and Office Home and Student, both of which include OneNote.
There is also a new edition, Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010, comprising Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote.
Microsoft also announced new readiness and training tools for partners and resellers to allow them to prepare for the expected customer demand for the new suite.
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