Office 2010 releases to manufacturing, availability as soon as May 1

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The first volume licensing arrangements for Microsoft Office 2010 will be made through company partners on May 1, almost two weeks earlier than expected. This news today from the company's Office Engineering team, which released the final build of all versions of the company's principal applications suite today.

"Since the start of our public beta in November 2009, we've had more than 7.5 million people download the beta version -- that's more than 3 times the number of 2007 beta downloads!" reads this afternoon's post by the Engineering team. "The feedback that we've received from all these programs has shaped the set of products we're excited about, and that I'm sure will delight our customers."

Pre-orders for individual US customers have already started from Microsoft's online store. There, customers will find the Home and Student package (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) available for $149.99. This time, it's Outlook that's the premium component in the bundle; the Home and Business Package, which adds only Outlook to the Home and Student arrangement, sells for $279.99. The Professional bundle, which adds Publisher and Access, sells online for $499.99. Although SharePoint, Visio, and Project 2010 share the marketing umbrella with the other Office components, they are sold separately.

The delivery date for consumer Office bundles has not yet been set. However, the official Office launch date (any more, software is almost never launched once only) is May 12, when Microsoft officials including Business Division President Stephen Elop will lead a gala press presentation from the NBC Studios in New York City.

Though Microsoft unofficially absorbed a truckload of user-crafted suggestions from the Web site launched by two company employees (and recently shut down), it's the beta program where company engineers did the most listening to tester suggestions. From personal experience in that program, I can happily report that engineers were very receptive to input.

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