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Microsoft rolls out first Office 12 beta

Software giant gives selected testers the first look at the next version of the ubiquitous desktop suite.

Microsoft late Wednesday released the first test version of Office 12, the next incarnation of its ubiquitous desktop suite.

The company said it is offering up the Beta 1 code to about 10,000 pre-approved testers, with a broader test release slated for the spring. Microsoft is promising a final version of Office 12 for the second half of next year, around the same time as the company releases the Vista upgrade to its Windows operating system.

Office 12 beta

"The next version of Office is the most significant release in more than 10 years," Chris Capossela, a Microsoft vice president, said in a statement. "Now, after many years of research and development, we're eager to put the software to the test and solicit technical feedback from select customers and partners."

Microsoft had said it would release a test version this month and last week sent notices to those testers it had accepted for the program. Beta 1 offers new versions of the standard Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook applications. They come along with updates to several less-well-known members of the Office family, including its Access database, OneNote note-taking program, Publisher layout software and the Groove Virtual Office collaboration suite.

The Office upgrade is important for Microsoft, which gets much of its profits from the combined sales of Office and Windows, even as it has diversified into many other business and consumer products.

FAQ: Office 12

Click here to find out more about the update, including:
• What are the big changes?
• Will Office 12 require Windows Vista?
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So far with Office 12, Microsoft has showed off a revamp of the user interface and talked about other broad areas of improvement. But the company has not released a full set of new features or said how it will price and package up the new software.

At a financial analyst meeting in July, CEO Steve Ballmer did say there would be a "premium" version of Office, but the company has not elaborated on its plans there. The company has also pledged there will be some new server-based capabilities for Office, but has not given complete details.