Microsoft launches Office 2010 on Wednesday 12 May 2010 at 11am EDT in NBC Studios, New York. Business customers which make up 90 percent of Office customers, can begin purchasing the software while small businesses and consumers will have to wait till June for the suite to hit the stores.

Office generated US$19 billion in sales in fiscal 2009, which accounted for more than a third of Microsoft’s US$58 billion in sales for the year. It brought in more than half of the company’s operating profit – US$12 billion out of the overall US$20 billion.

According to Microsoft, about 500 million people use Office, many of them still on Office 2003 or older versions. While half the users may have purchased the software legitimately, the others have not, with many of them using pirated versions.

I believe the availability of free competitors, mainly in the form of Google Docs, has forced Microsoft to price its suite at a more affordable level. The Standard Edition of Office 2007, containing Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, debuted with a suggested retail price of US$399. Now, the price for Office 2010 Home and Business, which includes those four apps plus the note-taking program OneNote, costs as little as US$199.

For consumer users, which earned Office US1.8 billion in fiscal 2009, this is a much more affordable price tag, especially if upgrading from the 2003 version or earlier.