If you want to have a look at the new Office 2010 suite then you can download the beta version now from Microsoft for free. The benefit is that you can try out the new version well in advance of the official launch "during the first half of 2010". This article covers how to download and install Office 2010 beta.

The beta version is being made available for three different interest groups: Developers, IT professionals, and Small Business/Home Users. That's just about everyone on the planet by my reckoning. Small Business/Home users can download the Office 2010 Professional beta and Developers or IT Professionals can download the Office 2010 Professional Plus beta.

Office 2010 Professional contains Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, and OneNote. Office 2010 Professional Plus contains all of the above plus InfoPath, Sharepoint Workspace, and Communicator.

The minimum recommended hardware requirements for Office 2010 are the same as for Office 2007. These are Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista or Windows 7, 500 Mhz or higher processor, 256 Megabytes of RAM (higher would be much better) , hard disk 3G free space. These are only minimum requirements, but in reality any system capable of running Office 2007 will run Office 2010. You need to have a Windows Live ID account to use the download service, or you can create a new account during the download process.

Just some words of caution first - the Office 2010 version is a beta version, which means that amendments may be made prior to the release of the final version, and there may be software bugs affecting some features. So you need to be comfortable with the idea of trying out beta software - otherwise don't go ahead. Once installed there is a facility of reporting good and bad experiences to Microsoft. The Office 2010 beta version will function until 31st October 2010 - after that it won't work and you'll need to uninstall it, as it can't be upgraded to the full version.

Even though you may be familiar with running more than one Office version at a time you are strongly advised to install Office 2010 beta on a secondary PC, not your main PC, so its system files are kept entirely separate. Alternatively you could install Office 2010 on a separate partition on your main PC, which needs to have its own operating system installed first, or on to a virtual PC running on your main PC, which also needs to have its own operating system installed first. There are several free virtual PCs available such as Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 or Sun Microsystems VirtualBox.

You may want to Google for the Office 2010 beta download site, but currently it's: http://www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/download-office-professional-plus/default.aspx

Once on this site, you can choose which version to download. Suppose you want to download the Home User version. Initially click on either the Developer Download or IT Professional Download, and in the next screen at the top right click to select the Small Business/Home User version. In the Microsoft 2010 beta screen click the "Get it Now" link at the top right, then click "Download".

In the next screen you need to click "Download Now", and you'll see the screen with English set as the language. Click "Download Now" and you then need to work through two Windows Live ID screens, finishing with yet another "Download Now" to click, but that's it - the file will then download. You'll also see your product key on this last download page, so you should print or save this page. The single file download is a hefty 617M but if you have broadband it downloads in about 20 min for a standard 5M-6M connection.

Once you've saved the downloaded exe file to a convenient folder you can run the installation by double clicking it and then work through the installation screens to select the installation location and select the required Office components.

Once Office 2010 is installed you'll find that there is a single product activation procedure to activate all the applications - a very welcome feature. This can be done by launching an application, for example Word 2010, where you'll see there's a brand new "File" tab replacing the Office 2007 "Office" button. In the File Tab choose "Help" where you can click on the Activation link on the right and follow through the screens.

And that's it - you're successfully using Office 2010. So you can start to investigate the editable Tabs (not just the Quick Launch Toolbar), explore saving to the Skydrive and get to know what's changed in each of the Office 2010 applications. If you're interested you can send feedback to Microsoft using the "Send a Smile" or "Send a Frown" smiley faces on the lower right in each Application.

Look out for Office 2010 upgrade training courses in the best computer training centres around the country soon - this can be a very effective way to get you up and running with Office 2010.