Microsoft will announce an upgrade program for its next Office suite in five weeks, according to a report by ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley.
The program will offer free or discounted upgrades to Office 2013 -- the name of the new bundle -- or Office 365, the subscription service that Microsoft unveiled this summer, to customers who have recently purchased Office 2010.
Microsoft regularly runs such deals for Office and its Windows operating system.
In 2010, it kicked off a "technology guarantee" for buyers of Office 2007, giving them a free upgrade to Office 2010 for several months bracketing the latter's retail launch.
Microsoft debuted that deal on March 5, 2010, 14+ weeks before the June 15, 2010, retail launch of Office 2010. The program ran until Sept. 30, 2010.
The company is running a similar program with Windows 8 for those who purchase a Windows 7-powered PC between June 2, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013. Customers will be able to download a copy of Windows 8 Pro for $14.99 starting Oct. 26.
Foley, citing unnamed sources backed by screenshots of a Microsoft website that has since been scrubbed, said that the company will kick off the Office 2013 upgrade deal Oct. 19.
If her contacts have the date right and Microsoft uses the same timetable as during the Office 2010 cycle, it means that Office 2013 will launch in the last week of January 2013.
That fits with previous back-of-the-envelope estimates that Computerworld has done. Based on the release of a "Customer Preview" of Office 2013 and Office 365, Computerworld had forecast a retail launch during the last week of January or the first week of February 2013.
Assuming Microsoft runs the new upgrade deal as long as it did the one for Office 2010, it wouldn't shut it down until the middle of May 2013.
Two years ago, Microsoft gave Office 2007 buyers a free copy of the corresponding edition of Office 2010. That's not guaranteed this year.
As Foley pointed out, Microsoft abandoned the free upgrade for Windows this time, choosing instead to charge customers $14.99 for the move from any edition of Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro.
The firm could do something similar with Office by offering a greatly reduced one-year subscription to Office 365 Home Premium, a higher-grade SKU that, for example, includes the Outlook email client, a piece missing from Office's most popular edition, Home & Student.
Such a move would be to Microsoft's benefit because it would familiarize customers with the concept of paying for a suite over time, and perhaps make it easier for Microsoft to later convert them to full-price subscribers.
Users can try the Office 365 Home Premium Customer Preview -- it installs a copy of Office 2013 on the PC's hard drive -- by starting at this Microsoft site.
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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