Beta Version of Microsoft Office 2010 Now Available

The test versions of Microsoft's upcoming Office 2010 became available today.  An integrated desktop with Internet, or "cloud," based version and a mobile version for Windows Mobile-based phones can be downloaded from Microsoft for free.

Download is fast thanks to Microsoft's new Click-to-Run streaming technology, but not all features are available to Beta users and the program will eventually cost at least $100.

Microsoft has addressed some of the fastest growing trends among computer users in Office 2010 including the move to cloud computing, integration of social networking, the rise of video and the ability to use one program across multiple devices in any location.

Office 2010 includes an online version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, and allows users to access documents stored "in the cloud" through an Internet connection. Users can share documents from the desktop version to the online version and vice versa by connecting to SkyDrive through a Windows Live account, Microsoft’s online services platform that includes instant messaging and email.

Users must have a Windows Live account and must install Office 2010 Beta before using Office 2010 Web Apps. At this time, documents may be viewed in SkyDrive, but cannot be edited.

While the online version is technically free, once the Beta period closes on Oct. 31, 2010, users will have to purchase Office 2010 to continue using Web Apps. Consumer versions will range from $100 to $500 where the software will reside on the owner's computer, but will allow access to the online version.

PowerPoint and Word have been spiffed up with new graphical capabilities. The new PowerPoint includes photo and video editing capabilities, which may eliminate the need for separate programs, and the ability to embed videos within slides. Word includes built-in photo editing as well.

According to Microsoft, 67 percent of Internet users visit social networks, indicating the rise in importance of social connections across both business and social environments. With Outlook Social Connector, social networking accounts are integrated into the email interface. Click on an email from a contact to see recent e-mail conversations, meetings, profiles, status updates and shared attachments.

This feature is not fully functional yet. LinkedIn and MySpace are accessible while Facebook and Windows Live are scheduled for future integration.

Microsoft notes that users must install a piece of software called Outlook Social Connector (OSC) 32-bit Beta as well as Outlook Social Connector included in the Office 2010 Beta to activate the social media features. Also, you cannot install the 32-bit OSC Beta on Outlook 2010 Beta 64-bit.

Microsoft also released the Beta version of Office Mobile 2010 for phones using Windows Mobile operating system today, which extends the use of Office across more devices. The mobile suite includes Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Documents can be edited and shared directly from the phone. Office Mobile is offered through the Windows Marketplace, Microsoft’s online mobile apps store, as a free upgrade for Windows Mobile 6.5 phones that have an earlier version of Office Mobile installed.

In tests, the new Beta version of Microsoft's updated Office suite was up and running in less than five minutes. If a high-speed connection is unavailable, Microsoft recommends downloading Office Professional 2010 Beta instead. In this case, expect installation to take up to two hours.

If your computer runs Office 2007, it will support Office 2010. Users can have both versions of Office on one machine with the exception of Outlook. Office 2010 will run as the default, so once the Beta is installed, the program will automatically convert prior Office versions to Office 2010. If Outlook 2007 is running, Outlook 2010 will not open.

Today Microsoft only offers Office 2010 for PCs. A Mac version is under development and scheduled for release in 2011.