Take Microsoft Office 2013 for a 60-day test drive

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Microsoft Office 2013 shipped to manufacturers late last month, but you won't be able to get your small-business hands on it until sometime in the first half of 2013.

Actually, you won't be able to buy it until then. Right now, however, you can get a free 60-day trial of Office Professional Plus 2013. That two-month test drive should give you ample time to decide if the latest Office is worth the hundreds of dollars Microsoft will undoubtedly charge for it.

Note that only Windows 7 and Windows 8 users need apply; the new suite isn't compatible with older versions of the OS. (Hey, I don't make the rules.)

Here's how to start your trial:

1. Click the above link to go to the TechNet download page, then click the green Get Started Now button. (Note that you'll need some kind of Microsoft account before you can do this. Anything is fine: Hotmail, Live, etc.)

2. Complete the registration form, making sure to choose the version of Office (32- or 64-bit) that corresponds to your version of Windows. You don't have to subscribe to the TechNet Flash newsletter if you don't want to.

3. Print or write down your product key, choose your language, and then click Download. On my Windows 8 testbench system with Internet Explorer, this led to the installation of a download manager, which then proceeded to download the 666MB Office installer. (Good thing I'm not suspicious.)

4. Now, here's where it gets tricky. You just downloaded an IMG file, which isn't the same as an executable. In Windows 8, you can right-click the file and choose Mount, then run the Setup program. In Windows 7, you'd need a utility like Virtual CloneDrive to accomplish the same thing. Alternately, you can burn the IMG onto a CD or DVD and install it from there. Learn how in "How to Create and Mount an ISO Disc Image."

Once you've finished installing the suite, check out Helen Bradley's "10 awesome new additions in Office 2013." Then hit the comments and let me know what you think of Microsoft's latest Office.

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