Moments ago, Microsoft released the Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 public beta, and today the world gets its first chance to dig in to the new versions.

The road to Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 has been a surprisingly long one. While it was only 3 years ago that Office 2007 was released, it has felt like eons, partly because technology moves quickly and new features (most particularly, social networking features) are “sorely missed” more quickly than ever before.

The good news is that the product groups made good use of this time. The 2010 wave is extraordinary—I would argue at least as big an improvement as Windows 7 over Windows Vista. There will be lots to look at, and many features to “dig in to” over the next few weeks. Today, let’s download!

The public betas of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 have been released to the web as of today, November 18th. You’ll be able to get to them from the SharePoint and Office sites as well as through TechNet and MSDN.

In fact, SharePoint 2010 appeared on MSDN on Monday—something I expect was not supposed to happen—so some of you may have already begun the fun. Interestingly, the build of SharePoint is even newer than the Beta 2 build used at the SharePoint Conference just 3 weeks ago, so there are fixes and improvements even over that recent build.

Later this week, myself and some of my peers will be posting “build documents” to help you build out a test environment for SharePoint 2010. It’s not as straightforward, yet, as there are prerequisites and patches, and patches to prerequisites.

Keep in mind that because this is beta code, there is lots of additional baggage in the code so don’t be alarmed if performance isn’t quite as peppy as you’d expect. Personally, I would expect a release candidate shortly after the holidays that will give us a better feeling for the installation and performance stories.

We were told at the SPC that the public beta would be feature complete. I expect that’s 95-99% true, but my guess is there will be a few (probably niche but important) features slipped in between now and RTM, either as part of the product or through CodePlex.

The final product is expected to be released “in the first half of 2010.” Knowing that there are two huge events--the SharePoint Pro 2010 Summit in March and TechEd 2010 in early June—I’m sure one of those will end up being the launching pad for this very important Microsoft launch.

A very important caveat about the public beta is that it appears there will be no migration path from beta to RTM. This means that you need to build and deploy any pilot environments in such a way that they can be rebuilt on top of the RTM code.

Building solutions (which can now be done in SharePoint Designer as well as Visual Studio), using PowerShell scripts, and other standard deployment practices will be more important than ever. The community is really surprised about this significant caveat, and I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft steps up to address the problem between now and RTM (at least with a release candidate-to-RTM migration path), but they’ve made it clear that at this point you need to assume it will be a heavy lift from beta into RTM.

There will be more caveats as well, including what can and cannot be done with the beta product. For example, I’m hearing that user profile synchronization is a non-starter in a Windows Server 2003 domain, but that it works in a Windows Server 2008 domain (i.e. domain controllers). I’ve not confirmed this myself, but because it’s such a big gotcha I wanted to at least let you know that it might be the case, so that you don’t beat your head against the wall.

The installation of the Office 2010 client suite is a breeze. I’ve been using a previous build and while I was required to uninstall that build before installing the public beta, it went very smoothly and as big a fan as I was of the product so far, I love the new build even more.

I’m particularly loving the new social networking features in Outlook, which exposes the history and social network feeds of people involved with an email message or thread. I’ll post more about this later, but check it out on the bottom of the “reading pane” of a message in Outlook. I’m told that the Office client suite is, for all intents and purposes, complete, so I think you can expect a very positive test experience with the client applications.

So, join a few hundred thousand (or million) of your closest friends, and download Office and SharePoint today. And don’t be surprised if the rest of the Web slows down just a bit today. Stay tuned to www.sharepointproconnections.com and follow me on twitter for more details.