Microsoft's upcoming Office 2013 has reached the release to manufacturing (RTM) stage earlier than expected, meaning the next-generation applications could be in the hands of customers by November.

Office 2013 was officially unveiled by Microsoft in July, and is described by the firm as "the most ambitious release of Office" it has ever delivered.

It includes touch-optimised versions of the familiar Office applications to support Windows 8 and tablet devices, plus a greater emphasis on the cloud to store documents and settings.

"The new Office has a fresh, touch friendly design that works beautifully on Windows 8 and unlocks modern scenarios in social, reading, note-taking, meetings and communications," said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office Division, writing in the Office News blog.

"We are proud to achieve this milestone and are eager to deliver this exciting release to our customers."

According to Microsoft, IT professionals and developers will be able to download the final code via a TechNet or MSDN account by mid-November.

Volume licensing customers with Software Assurance agreements will also be able to download the Office 2013 applications and other Office products by mid-November through Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service Center.

General availability of the suite is still planned for the first quarter of 2013, but starting from 19 October, any customers purchasing the current Office 2010 will be eligible to upgrade for free when Office 2013 ships.