Want a copy of Microsoft’s latest Office 2007 Beta? Get in quickly, as Microsoft is poised to start charging US$1.50 per download. Yup, Redmond is charging for the beta after the second of August.

Though Apple has previously attempted the same (with a bound, pressed CD for OS X), this is an ugly trend.

The reason according to a Microsoft representative is that because Beta 2 was downloaded more than 3 million times, “the fee helps offset the cost of downloading from the servers.”

Err, come again? The cost of shipping betas to testers falls squarely in the category of product R&D and it’s outrageous that Microsoft should attempt to charge for this. The beta testers are doing Microsoft a service by helping provide feedback and improve the code.

Another couple of points worth musing on: how is Redmond ever going to compete with Google if the company isn’t prepared to put the networks in place to serve huge amounts of data to its customers? This doesn’t make Microsoft look customer-focused and progressive. It makes the company look money-hungry and backwards and I’m sure people everywhere are rolling their eyes and talking about “the same old Microsoft”.

Also, if bandwidth is such an issue, why not make Office 2007 available on BitTorrent for free? Microsoft doesn’t have to cover bandwidth costs if it’s being distributed on peer to peer networks.

I can’t help but draw the conclusion that Microsoft has either just found a new income stream, or a way to trim down the list of beta testers. Either way, I strongly encourage you to download and play with the Office 2007 beta – just make sure you do it in the next 2 days.

Update: I’ve just learned today that Microsoft is not planning on allowing Australians to download the beta after Wednesday – even if they pay the US$1.50 fee.

Is anyone else as outraged about this as I am? It has been pointed out to me that large corporate environments looking to do deployment testing with the beta won’t balk at the US$1.50 fee. There’s nothing illegal about what Microsoft is doing and the company is well within its rights to charge for the beta product.

While I agree, I don’t know if Microsoft can afford more negative PR and loss of face in the ongoing battle with Yahoo! and Google…