In an unprecedented move, Microsoft is allowing users to test the next version of Office online without having to download software.
Customers can visit Microsoft's Web site to "test drive" the software from within their Web browsers. This marks the first time Microsoft has offered this kind of browser-based Office beta. Supported browsers for the release are Internet Explorer (IE) 6 or a later version of IE.
Applications included in the Web-based test version of Office 2007 are: Microsoft Office Access 2007, Excel 2007, InfoPath 2007, OneNote 2007, Outlook 2007, Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager, Outlook Web Access, PowerPoint 2007, Project Professional 2007, Publisher 2007, SharePoint Designer 2007, Visio 2007, Word 2007, SharePoint Services, Project Server 2007 and SharePoint Server 2007.
Microsoft already has released two beta versions of Office 2007, and the company said 2.5 million have downloaded beta 2, which it made available in May.
When a user downloads a new version of Office to a Windows machine -- even a test version -- it replaces any earlier version of Office that may have been installed. This can cause compatibility problems with Office documents already saved on a system, because test versions of software are not always compatible with previous versions. Using a test version of Office 2007 through a browser eliminates this problem.
An online test version of Office could spur rumors that Microsoft will eventually offer the software online as a Web-based service. Microsoft already offers a service called Office Live that offers Web-site hosting, document-management and business-management tools, but it does not offer worker productivity applications the way the packaged software version of Office does.
However, competitor Google offers a free, Web-based word-processing application called Writely, a move that some think Microsoft may counter in the future with a Web-based version of Office.
Microsoft plans to release Office 2007 to business customers before the end of the year, and to consumers in January 2007.