Microsoft unveils new betas for Office, Vista

With the test releases, Redmond wants to demonstrate that it's on track after missing several deadlines.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
SEATTLE--Microsoft is aiming to show that, following recent stumbles, it has regained its footing.

The software maker announced Tuesday that it is ready with broader test versions of both Windows Vista and Office 2007. The company also has an updated test version of Longhorn Server, the next version of its server operating system.

Word 2007 beta 2
Outlook 2007 beta 2
PowerPoint 2007 beta 2
Excel 2007 beta 2
Check out screenshots and CNET editors' early reactions to the Office 2007 suite.

Both Vista and Office had been expected to hit retail shelves in time for this year's holiday season. In March, however, Microsoft said that although it still planned to finish up development of both products by year's end, the broad launch of the products would not come until January.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates called the release of the three test versions a milestone, noting it was the first time that all three products had been at the same place in the development cycle.

"Each of these is a very important product," Gates said in a keynote address here at the company's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, or WinHEC.

IDC analyst Richard Shim said the release of the test versions is a good sign that Microsoft is on track with its revised timetable.

"It's something that they had to do," Shim said, noting that the company needs to prove itself after missing several deadlines.

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Release the betas
At WinHEC, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates calls the releases of Vista, Office 2007 and Longhorn Server a "milestone."
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New view of Vista
Microsoft has released a beta version of the upcoming Windows release. CNET's Robert Vamosi takes a look at some of the key features.
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Microsoft Office 2007 beta 2
CNET's Elsa Wenzel walks you through changes in Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Outlook.

In his keynote speech before about 3,500 hardware makers, Gates also sounded a familiar note, talking about the coming wave of 64-bit computers. Although many systems today have 64-bit chips, the necessary software and drivers are only now coming into the market. The company perennially uses the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference to implore hardware makers to ensure they have built 64-bit drivers. Although 64-bit systems can run 32-bit software, they require new drivers for any hardware device--drivers that have been slow in coming.

Servers are moving faster to 64-bit processors, in large part because they need fewer drivers. Gates reiterated that several forthcoming server products will only ship in 64-bit versions, including its Compute Cluster Editon of Windows, the next version of Exchange and its next server operating systems for small and midsize businesses, code-named Cougar and Centro, respectively.

Microsoft said that Beta 2 versions of Vista and Longhorn Server are available now to developers and those in its technical beta programs. WinHEC attendees will also get DVDs with the software.

"We're churning out DVDs as I speak," Gates said.

The company said its "Customer Preview Program," which will allow a broader group of IT workers and tech enthusiasts to try out Vista, will start "in the coming weeks." Microsoft said Beta 2 is available now via free download in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.

Microsoft also announced an effort to get hardware makers to build products around its Windows Live services. The company had already announced at January's Consumer Electronics Show that Philips and Uniden were building cordless phone with built-in MSN Messenger. On Tuesday, it announced that Motorola will also create cordless phones supporting Windows Live services.

The Motorola phone will be "dual-mode," meaning it can either make traditional phone calls or make calls over the Internet through a partnership with Verizon. In addition, the phone will be able to show whether messaging contacts are online as well as notify users of new e-mail and instant messages.

This summer, Microsoft plans to offer a software development kit to make it easier for more hardware makers to offer products that connect to Windows Live.