Microsoft plans to make the final public test build of Office 2007 available on September 14 to the more than 3.5 million testers who were part of the company's Beta 2 test program.
Microsoft will allow Office Beta 2 testers to download for free the Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh (TR) from the Microsoft Office Preview site, starting at 9:00 a.m. PST on Thursday.
The new build includes better product integration, improved collaboration tools and "some general fit and finish changes," according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.
Microsoft is not making a CD or DVD version of the Office 2007 Beta 2 TR available, the spokeswoman confirmed.
Office 2007 Beta 2 TR is the test build of the next major version of Office that is optimized to work with Windows Vista Release Candidate (RC) 1, which Microsoft began rolling out to testers at the beginning of September.
Microsoft may still provide select testers with one or more private test builds of Office 2007 before the product is completed. Microsoft still anticipates being able to release Office 2007 to manufacturing before the end of calendar 2006, and make the product available to business users with volume license agreements before year-end, officials reconfirmed on September 13. The worldwide launch of Office 2007 is expected to coincide with the Windows Vista launch at the end of January 2007.
Some testers have said they are expecting Microsoft to release Office 2007 to manufacturing in October.
That timetable doesn't leave Microsoft with much wiggle room, said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with the Burton Group.
"With Office 2007 (client and server, e.g., Windows SharePoint Services v3), as with Windows Vista, Microsoft is rapidly running out of testing time," O'Kelly said. "If they're going to hit their release date targets.
" I'm impressed with Office 2007, including recent enhancements such as the Quick Customize Menu," O'Kelly added. but Microsoft needs to wrap up testing and tweaking soon, if it's going to hit its target deadlines."
The Office 2007 Quick Customize Menu– detailed by Jensen Harris, a manager on Microsoft's Office user experience team on his blog this week – is a new feature that is part of Office 2007 Beta 2. The menu allows users to add a core set of features to Office 2007's Quick Access Toolbar.
"If you're running Windows Vista RC 1, you'll be happy to know that B2TR (Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh) works great on RC1 (unlike the much earlier Office Beta 2, which has some problems on Vista RC1.)," Harris also noted on his blog.
"B2TR represents an iterative step forward for the UI design—a refinement and polishing of each component," Harris blogged. "The UI is now totally feature complete, and you will see only cosmetic differences between B2TR and the final version in most areas.
According to Harris, Microsoft made nearly 1,000 individual improvements to the Ribbon user interface that is built into Office 2007 – "everything from redesigning the Home tab of PowerPoint to subtle changes to scaling or labels to work better on small monitors." Improved support for the "minimize Ribbon" capability is also part of the new test build, Harris confirmed.
Office 2007 will run on Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista. The server components of the product, known as SharePoint Server 2007, will run on Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server Longhorn.
(This article was updated to include the correct number of Office 2007 Beta 2 testers.)