Microsoft will give a select group of technology-savvy testers an early look at its Office 2010 software as the new suite reaches the technical preview milestone.

Although a key element of the suite – the free Web-based versions of programs like Word and Excel – is still under wraps, Microsoft South Africa’s Albie Bester says the milestone means that Office 2010 is “well on track” for release in the early part of next year.
Bester says the new version of the company’s desktop software package will allow people to work simultaneously on documents, organise their e-mail and edit videos and photos.
However, the biggest change is the free versions of the software that run in a Web browser as Microsoft looks to take advantage of the trend for software to move from the desktop to the cloud. The browser-based programs “technical preview” will be ready in August.
The applications, which run in Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer, are aimed at both expanding the number of Office users within businesses as well as holding the ground threatened by Google Docs and other Web-based productivity programs.
“Much of what is in the technical preview of Office 2010 has been talked about for some time already,” says Bester. “We are delivering technology to help people work smarter and faster from virtually any location using any device.”
Word gets a collection of cool image effects and a new “paste preview” tool that lets users hover over different paste options and see what their paste will look like before accepting that selection. Excel gets a new feature called Sparklines, which are tiny graphs that can fit in a single cell of a spreadsheet. PowerPoint picks up video editing features as well as the ability to create a video of one's presentation, including voice annotations.
The Outlook e-mail and calendar program adds a conversation view feature, a la Gmail. Microsoft's feature goes further though, offering an “ignore thread” option which keeps a user from having to see a message string they are no longer interested in being a part of.
Microsoft also announced that it is streamlining the number of Office editions from eight to five and enhancing each edition with additional applications and features. Office Web applications will be available in three ways: through Windows Live, where more than 400 million consumers will have access to Office Web applications at no cost; on-premises for all Office volume licensing customers including more than 90-million Office annuity customers; and via Microsoft Online Services, where customers will be able to purchase a subscription as part of a hosted offering.