Microsoft has released Office 2007 to manufacturing. Customers in Canada and the United States can start downloading Office 2007 on 1 December.

Customers in another 13 countries, including the UK, will be able to download free, 60-day trial versions "soon" after the beginning of December, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman . Those countries will include the Ireland, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico.

Customers can activate their trial copy of Office 2007 within the first two months by paying for it online or at a retail store. With Office 2003, Microsoft's last Office release, only Americans and Canadians were allowed to download free trials of the software. Customers won't be able to find Office 2007 on retail store shelves or get it preinstalled on PCs until early 2007, said the spokeswoman.

Like Windows Vista, Office 2007 will be available to corporate volume licence customers via web or on CD starting 30 November.

A company representative said that no new features have been introduced since the Beta 2. The company did, however, announce a new service - SMS Link for Office Outlook 2007 - that lets Outlook 2007 users send and receive e-mail, contacts, appointments and tasks to mobile phones as SMS text messages.

Office 2007 includes a revamped user interface, greater support for non-English languages and more collaboration tools and has been marked by controversy over a significantly revamped interface in many of the applications familiar menus and toolbars have been replaced with the Ribbon, a colorful tabbed bar divided into groups of icons and buttons organized by task.

The suite will ship in seven editions. Microsoft Office Basic includes Word, Excel, and Outlook and is available only from OEMs, meaning it will most likely be the version preloaded on new desktops and notebooks. The new Office Home and Student (H&S) version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. OneNote is an organiser that replaces Outlook from the previous Student and Teacher (S&T) edition.

UK pricing has not yet been announced: the US is $399 for a standard edition and $239 for an upgrade. The Small Business edition will be $449 with an upgrade price of $279. The Office Professional version, will sell for $499 for the full version and $329 for the upgrade version, takes the Small Business edition and adds Access.

The Professional Plus includes Outlook without the Business Contact Manager and adds the InfoPath information-gathering program; the Office Communicator instant messaging program; advanced information rights management and policy capabilities; electronic forms; and integrated enterprise content management. Professional Plus is available only to volume licensees, and pricing has not been released.

New this year is an Ultimate edition. It takes Professional Plus and adds Business Contact Manager to Outlook as well as Groove collaboration software. The Ultimate edition, however, does not include Communicator. More version information can be found on Microsoft's site.

Original reporting by Computerworld (US online)