The new desktop suite includes Access, Excel, Lync, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher and Word. It can be downloaded and installed by any consumer, whether they currently have an Office edition or Office 365 subscription or not, and by business workers whose companies subscribe to an eligible Office 365 plan that has Pro Plus as part of the deal.
The latter range from Office 365 Enterprise's E3 and E4 plans and Office 365 Education's E3 and E4, to Office 365 Government's E3 and E4. Some plans, such as Office 365 Business, are not eligible for this preview but will be opened to the beta later, Microsoft said.
"Since March, we've shared some glimpses of what's to come in Office 2016," Jared Spataro, the Office marketing group's general manager, said in a blog post. "Today, we'd like to give a more holistic view of what customers at home and work can expect in the next release."
The March preview Spataro referred to was available only to a subset of Office 365 subscribers, and followed the release of a broader-based preview of Office 2016 for Mac weeks earlier. Because the latter was open to anyone two months before the Windows version's audience was expanded today, it looks likely that Office 2016 for OS X will debut in final form before the Windows edition.
Microsoft said that Office 2016 for Windows would ship in the fall, the same timetable executives had shared earlier.
In a FAQ, Microsoft listed the requirements for running the preview, which include Windows 7 and later, and reminded potential testers that they had to uninstall Office 2013 before shifting to the preview. The two editions cannot be run side by side, as can the beta of Office 2016 on the Mac with the older Office 2011.
Business workers require IT permission to download and install Office 2016 on Windows; administrators must switch on "First Release" rights on the corporate Office 365 dashboard.
Office 2016 will be the standard desktop suite, and is separate from (and different than) Office for Windows 10, the touch-enabled versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint targeting tablets and touchscreen-equipped PCs. Microsoft released a preview of Office for Windows 10 three months ago.
As is Microsoft's practice for previews, support for Office 2016 remains self-serve, primarily at a peer-to-peer discussion forum.
Microsoft has not yet revealed the pricing of Office 2016 -- on either Windows or OS X -- nor its retail strategy for selling the suite outside Office 365 subscriptions.
Instructions for retrieving the Office 2016 preview can be found on Microsoft's website.