Microsoft has released a public beta of Office 2010 Service Pack 2 (SP2), the first major update to the suite in almost two years.
The preview of Office 2010 SP2 can be downloaded from Microsoft's Connect website, the company said.
In addition to Office 2010 SP2, the download includes the code necessary to upgrade several server products, such as SharePoint 2010 and Office Web Apps 2010.
Microsoft shipped Office 2010 SP1 in June 2011, about a year after the suite's debut.
Office 2010 SP2 includes the usual roll-up of past security and hotfix patches, as well as "previously unreleased fixes that were made specifically for this service pack," Microsoft said in an accompanying document. Those range from stability, performance, and security fixes to compatibility updates for Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, and Internet Explorer 10 (IE10).
Microsoft did not describe the contents of SP2 in detail, but said it would when it shipped the final code.
According to the beta's end-user license agreement (EULA), the license -- and presumably the software itself -- will be valid until either Dec. 31, 2013, or the service pack's commercial release, whichever comes first.
Although Microsoft has decided to scrap service packs for Windows -- Windows 7, for example, is not expected to receive a follow-up to 2011's SP1 -- Monday's announcement indicates that they're still part of the Office release cycle.
How long they will remain so, however, is up in the air. Two weeks ago, longtime Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, who blogs at ZDNet, said the company has a two-year project, dubbed "Gemini," to revamp Office development.
Part of Gemini will likely be aimed at Office 365, the expanded line of subscription plans introduced earlier this year. Microsoft has already said it can update and/or upgrade Office 365 every 90 days. But in that rapid release environment, it's unclear how Microsoft intends to handle customers who stick with traditional "perpetual" licenses.
Last month, Gartner analyst Michael Silver said that while Microsoft would probably use frequent upgrades to promote Office 365, businesses making Software Assurance payments, the annuity-like program that gives enterprises rights to all future versions, would also get the new code.
"I think Microsoft will use [the faster release cycle] as another differentiator for subscribers," Silver said at the time. "But folks with [Software Assurance] will eventually get the updates, just not in real time."
It's possible those updates would appear in forms vastly different from a service pack, signaling the death of that upgrade format.
Microsoft did not hint at a ship date for Office 2010 SP2, but if it sticks to the timetable it used with SP1, the wait could be long: Office 2010 SP1 was seeded to a small group of beta testers in November 2010, seven months before final release.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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