Microsoft has revealed publically, for the first time, a taste of what Office users can expect to see next year. The company used its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans to demonstrate a preview of Office 2010 and Visio 2010 - although some early versions had been leaked earlier.

The company also showed demos of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and Project 2010 but to a more limited number of participants, the company said. Another Office 2010 product, Exchange Server, has been in beta since April.

What Microsoft didn't release at the show was a test preview of Microsoft's answer to challenges posed by the free apps vendors - Open Office and Google. Microsoft was widely expected to show Office Web Apps, a free, web-based version of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. However, Microsoft did demonstrate the online suite at the conference during a keynote by Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop, who said a technical preview would be available in August, followed sometime after by a public beta.

Customers will be able to get Office Web Apps in a number of ways. It will be free for anyone who wants to use the basic version, and business customers can get a paid version that they can either run on-premise on their own SharePoint Server back-end or as a hosted service from Microsoft.

Microsoft is making the apps available in a variety of ways so hundreds of millions of users will have access to them immediately upon release, Elop said.