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Microsoft to charge for Office beta

Software giant next week will start charging a nominal fee for 2007 Office Beta 2 downloads, as it seeks to offset costs.

Microsoft plans next week to charge a nominal fee for Office 2007 Beta 2 downloads, a move that runs counter to the practice held by most software companies.

Consumers who download the 2007 Microsoft Office system Beta 2 will be charged $1.50 per download, beginning next Wednesday at 6 p.m. PDT, a Microsoft representative said.

"Since the end of May, Beta 2 has been downloaded more than 3 million times...That's 500 percent more than what was expected," the representative said. "The fee helps offset the cost of downloading from the servers."

Although Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group decided to initiate a fee for new users of Beta 2, the "technical refresh," or update, for current users of the software will remain free, the representative said.

Those who want to test drive Beta 2 to see how it works can access the software for free. But if they want to test it against their internal systems, a download or the CD is required.

The fee marks the first time Microsoft has charged for a download version of an Office beta, the representative said, noting that customers have long had to pay the shipping and handling costs for CD versions of betas.