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Microsoft launches Office 15 as technical preview

The next version of Office has been released as a technical preview, but the actual beta is slated to debut late summer, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is already testing the waters with the next version of its popular Office suite.

Office 15 officially made its debut as a technical preview yesterday, available to a small number of early testers who will provide feedback that can influence the final release.

And though the technical preview program is already full, a beta of the new Office suite will surface for everyone to play with later in the summer.

A Microsoft blog posted yesterday by PJ Hough, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Office Division, spilled very few beans about the new suite codenamed Office 15. And those select few who were chosen to check out the technical preview have had to sign non-disclosure agreements, so their lips will be tight as well.

Calling Office 15 "the most ambitious undertaking yet for the Office Division," Hough simply said that the new suite will mark the first time that "Microsoft will simultaneously update its cloud services, servers, and mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio."

Sources have told Mary Jo Foley of CNET sister site ZDNet that Microsoft wants to release Office 15 to the public by the end of 2012 and as such the company is debating whether to call it Office 2012 or Office 2013.

If the new Office suite does debut around that timeframe, it will follow Windows 8, which is expected to launch sometime during the second half of the year

As a result, Microsoft will almost certainly tune up Office 15 as a Metro-based app to take advantage of the new UI in Windows 8. CEO Steve Ballmer hinted as much last September when he told financial analysts that "we are rethinking and working hard on what it would mean to do Office Metro-style," noted Seattle PI and other news outlets.

But the presence of a Metro-based Office suite won't put the brakes on a new desktop version. Office is still one of the company's biggest profit centers. So even with the debut of Windows 8 Microsoft will need to refesh the traditional desktop flavor of Office for all other Windows users.