Microsoft updates Office beta

Software maker issues what it says is the last public updated test version before a final release later this year.

Microsoft plans on Thursday to release an updated test version of Office 2007, in what the company hopes will be the last milestone before finalizing the product later this year.

The company said that the free update, a "technical refresh" of the current beta version, will be a free download for existing testers. The software maker said the updated code offers improved performance, tighter integration and general look-and-feel enhancements.

"This technical refresh is the final external product milestone," the software maker said in a statement. "As we look toward the 2007 Office System business availability launch later this year, we anticipate the feedback we have received from customers will make this the most solid version of Office ever released."

Microsoft originally hoped to have Office in the hands of customers by October. Earlier in the year, the company said it would delay business availability until January, saying at the time it was a marketing choice to have the product launch at the same time as Windows Vista. In June, however, Microsoft said it was slightly delaying its development schedule because of performance concerns. The company said it would finish the code by the end of this year and launch it in "early 2007."

About 3.5 million people are testing Office 2007, Microsoft said. The product includes new versions of mainstays such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as less well-known products such as InfoPath and OneNote, along with the Groove product that Microsoft acquired when it bought Ray Ozzie's Groove Networks.

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