This weekend, Microsoft released its long-awaited Office 2003 Beta 2 Technical Refresh to 15,000 beta testers, a small subset of the 600,000+ users currently testing Beta 2. The technical refresh addresses problems with the Beta 2 code and offers a number of new features, as well as providing some nice fit and finish improvements, Microsoft says. The software giant will provide the technical refresh code to all Office 2003 Beta 2 users by the end of the month, I was told.

"We have made a lot of bug fixes and other changes to Office 2003 since the build that most of you are using," Microsoft's Sloan Crayton wrote to testers over the weekend. "For that reason, the \[technical refresh\] downloads are much larger than the ones that are typically made available for released products. This is especially true of the Office Professional 2003 Refresh patch.  Because of the large size of this download (over 100 MB) and the nature of patching using the Windows Installer, it will be necessary for the computer to have at least 1 GB of free space on the operating system disk drive partition … The good news is that the nearly all of this disk space is returned after the patch has been installed."

Microsoft issued separate patches for Microsoft Office Professional (which now includes Access, Excel, Outlook, Word, InfoPath and Publisher), and for the various other members of the Microsoft Office System. Crayton noted that beta testers would eventually receive CDs containing the update, though it's currently unclear how other people using Beta 2 will get the update. Presumably, the company will offer it via a Web download, given the logistical nightmare and cost of CD-based distribution.