Microsoft is offering the Release Candidate of its upcoming Office 2010 to a select group of testers enrolled in its Technology Adoption Program. Presumably, the version being offered to that group incorporates feedback from the massive round of beta testing that Microsoft launched for the productivity platform in November.
"Microsoft made a release candidate available to members in [TAP]," a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK in a Feb. 3 e-mail. "This is one of Microsoft's planned milestones in the engineering process; however, they do not have plans to make this new code set available broadly."
Office 2010 will be available in four versions: Office Home and Business ($279 as a boxed product), Office Professional ($499), Office Home and Student ($149), and Office Professional Academic ($99). Microsoft is also offering substantial deals for those who unlock a preloaded version of Office on newly purchased machines via a product key card; this attempt to bolster sales for its hardware partners reflects Microsoft's belief that its own revenues are directly tied to rising PC sales.
In a move reminiscent of its ramp-up to the release of the Windows 7 operating system, Microsoft opened Office 2010 to general public beta testing, trusting millions of testers to ferret out any bugs or issues before the software goes on sale in June. "In just seven weeks, more than 2 million people around the world have downloaded and are using the Office 2010 beta," Rachel Bondi, general manager of Microsoft Office, wrote in a Jan. 5 post on the Microsoft Office 2010 Engineering blog. "To get a better appreciation for that number, it's a rate of more than 40,000 downloads per day."
However, Microsoft also faces a growing threat from cloud-based applications such as Google Apps that have the potential to eat into its market share. In a countermove, Microsoft is planning to offer free, stripped-down versions of Word, OneNote, Excel and PowerPoint to Microsoft Live subscribers, although it also plans to hold back higher-level functionality for those who purchase the full version of Office 2010.
Perhaps concerned that businesses may adopt a "good enough" mentality about their productivity software and decline to upgrade, at least in the near term, Microsoft is also offering incentives for people to upgrade to Office 2010. Until June 30, businesses with OEM, Retail or Volume licenses running Microsoft Office Professional can use "the Up-To-Date discount available through the Open Value Subscription to get 50 [percent] off their Year 1 payments," Eric Ligman, global partner experience lead for Microsoft, wrote in a Jan. 1 post on the Microsoft SMB Community Blog.
"As an example, in the U.S., this means you would be paying $35.00 for a Windows 7 Professional Upgrade and/or $91.00 for Office 2007 Professional Plus in year one," Ligman added, "plus receiving all the Software Assurance benefits (such as an automatic upgrade to Office 2010 when it launches, Office Home Use rights,\ and much more)." However, the potential danger at this juncture for Microsoft could be small and midsize businesses finding themselves with limited IT budgets in the wake of the global recession, and either declining to upgrade or else exploring cloud-based offerings such as Google's.