Microsoft Refreshes Office Beta 2

Microsoft made the Office System Beta 2 Technical Refresh available to its 15,000 technical beta testers.

Microsoft Corp. on Friday made the Office System Beta 2 Technical Refresh available to its 15,000 technical beta testers via download at

While more than 600,000 beta testers have been involved in testing the Office System 2003 product so far, Microsoft has decided to first make the refresh available to the smaller group of technical beta testers.

"Feedback from this group will be analyzed to determine whether this delivery method will result in a positive experience for the broader group of beta 2 customers. Microsoft anticipates making a decision on next steps for broader deployment within the next week to 10 days," an Office spokesman said on Friday.

The Beta 2 Technical Refresh is designed to give technical beta testers the opportunity to provide feedback on the updates made to the Beta 2 code. Microsoft hopes this input will help create a more stable and secure final product. It is also one of the first times Microsoft has offered a beta refresh in the form of a download.

An Office spokesman told eWeek on Friday that the final product was still on track to be completed this summer and would be available to customers later this year. In April, Microsoft Corp. unveiled its planned six-SKU lineup.

The six editions on tap are Professional Enterprise, Professional, Standard, Students and Teachers, Small Business, and Basic. With Office XP, Microsoft offered four SKUs: Professional, Standard, Students and Teachers, and Developer. Microsoft decided to drop the Developer Edition and instead target developers with a set of tools known as Visual Studio Tools for Office, due out this summer.

Microsoft has decided not to include its new OneNote application with any of the Office suite bundles it will ship later this year. OneNote is a note-taking software application that allows users to capture, store and retrieve typewritten notes, pictures and diagrams on their laptop, desktop and Tablet PCs.

The other new application Microsoft has been developing as part of the Office System family of products, InfoPath, will be made available only to those large customers who have a volume licensing agreement with the company as part of the Professional Enterprise release. InfoPath is essentially a smart client that Microsoft has said will bring robust data-capturing and e-forms capabilities to its Office productivity suite.

Microsoft did not disclose pricing levels for the various Office System 2003 SKUs, but the spokesman reiterated that prices are not expected to change from the current Office XP.

Late last month Microsoft began dropping the prices of some of its flagship software products, starting with the Office XP family. The company cut retail prices by between 15 percent and 30 percent on a number of products in its Office XP product family.

It cut the retail price of both the Standard and Professional Office XP products by 15 percent, while also dropping the price for standalone applications like Word 2002, Excel 2002, PowerPoint 2002 and Access 2002 by some 30 percent.

Retail pricing before the cuts was $479 for the Office XP Standard Edition and $579 for the Professional Edition. The price reductions take effect this week in the United States and Canada; they will also be rolled out globally later. While Microsoft officials said the move had nothing to do with slipping sales or the threat from open source software, it has recently said that it may be forced to lower its software prices in the future as a result of the growth of open source.