It's Office 2010: First technical previews due in Q3

Microsoft confirmed to Betanews Tuesday that the first technical previews of the applications suite we can now call Office 2010, will be distributed to special participants -- probably in limited number at first, just like before -- in the third quarter of this year.

Julia White, a product manager for the Exchange Server team (which also has a major announcement this week), told Betanews that this limited number of initial testers will probably still number in the hundreds of thousands, suggesting that it will go beyond the usual MSDN and TechNet subscriber crowd. In tandem with this development track, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010, and Project 2010 will all also enter technical preview during the same timeframe, especially since they will need to be tested together in order to take advantage of new features.

Today's news is piggy-backed alongside the announcement, made official Tuesday night, that Exchange Server 2010 will enter its first public beta phase on Wednesday. Betanews will have more information to share about this news the moment the gates are officially opened, though we were told that many of Exchange Server's new features will make use of what could be a dramatically changed Outlook 2010 component.

That could make Exchange difficult to test for now, especially since Outlook 2007 -- many of whose originally planned changes didn't make the final cut -- will not have facilities for new Unified Communications features. Many of those UC features have yet to be announced, though we can expect them to turn up in Outlook 2010. Radically improved handling of voice mail capability is slated for both ES 2010 and the next Outlook, White told us. Even the very first betas of ES 2010 will include the ability for Outlook to show textual previews of voice mails, with the server translating voice messages into text.

As a result, your first peek at what Outlook 2010 could actually look like may come from ES 2010's Outlook Web Access. As ES admins know quite well, OWA is a management console for Web browsers designed to look and work just like Outlook. In the case of ES 2010, OWA will look just like Outlook 2010 is supposed to look.

It's not the optimum state of affairs for Microsoft, which had to delay Office 14's progress last February for still undisclosed reasons. But it does show the company has had the courage to proceed with its Exchange rollout plan on schedule, including its emphasis on the server as a development platform for communications tools, using a newly turbo-boosted PowerShell as the basis for that platform.

The first technical previews of Office 2010 will include native support for OpenDocument Format as an alternative default for the first time, along with revised support for the new ISO 29500 format that arose from Microsoft's OOXML standardization effort.

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