Microsoft is to start shipping early copies of Office 2010 to invite-only users in July, and has begun taking names for possible invitations to the preview.
Bill Veghte, the senior vice president who runs the Windows business group, announced the upcoming Technical Preview at TechEd, the Microsoft conference that opened on Monday in Los Angeles. Also yesterday, the company unveiled a new blog dedicated to the suite and a page where users can register for the preview.
According to the Reed Shaffner, the manager of the preview programme, the beta of Office 2010 - which is currently scheduled for a first-half 2010 release - will ship in both 32- and 64-bit editions; run on Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7; and work on any PC that can run its predecessor, Office 2007.
However, Shaffner was coy about any Office 2010 specifics. "We aren't ready to start demoing and sharing all of the features quite yet," he said. "[But] we have heard the feedback loud and clear that requirements for running our software needs to be available ASAP."
Microsoft has said that it will follow July's invite-only preview with a public beta available to all. "The development pace for Office  is no different than years past," said a Microsoft spokesman last month. "Technical Preview is usually invite-only, but still goes out to hundreds of thousands of people, and there is a public beta cycle where millions can download and try Office," the spokesman said.
Among the notable changes in Office are a revamped Outlook email client that will feature the 2007-esque 'ribbon' interface, and the simultaneous availability of new, lightweight online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
Previously, Microsoft said it has invested $7.7 billion in Office R&D, twice that of Windows, in an effort to ward off encroaching rivals such as OpenOffice.org and Google Docs.
People interested in applying for the Technical Preview can register by filling out a form on Microsoft's website.
The preview will include Word 2010, Excel 2010, Outlook 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Communicator 2010, Access 2010, InfoPath 2010 and Publisher 2010.
Microsoft has not disclosed pricing or even the number of different Office 2010 editions it expects to ship next year.