Sources: Windows 7 and Office 14 Dual Launch Not Likely

Though Microsoft released Office 2007 and Windows Vista at the same time, people should not expect the same of Windows 7 and the next version of Office, code-named Office 14.

Sources who follow Microsoft closely said that while they expect Windows 7 to be in full release as early as August or September -- or at least by the end of this year -- Office 14 probably won't be out until next year.

Microsoft released the first Windows 7 beta for public download on Saturday, initially limiting its release to a certain number of users due to an overwhelming response that caused problems for its Web site. The company later lifted the ban.

The Windows 7 beta is feature-complete, which means that all Microsoft will do between now and the final release is fix bugs and ensure the code is stable, rather than add new features to the OS.

However, no one has seen anything close to an Office 14 public beta yet, and Microsoft won't publicly comment on the software or its release date.

Andrew Brust, chief, new technology for Microsoft consulting partner twentysix New York, said he would not be surprised if Windows 7 were available to business customers in the summer, which in the U.S. refers to June, July and August.

Brust said he does not have specific insider information about Windows 7's scheduled release. However, the initial positive response to the Windows 7 beta and the fact that the OS is highly anticipated in the wake of Vista's shortcomings give Microsoft a strong impetus to get it into customers' hands sooner rather than later.

"People want this thing yesterday, and I think Vista sales could stagnate now because of it," he said via e-mail. "So it's in Microsoft's best interest to get Windows 7 to market. Not before it's ready, mind you. But the second it's done, it's got to go out.

However, he thinks Office 14 "will be a 2010 thing," a theory supported by screenshots posted on the UX Evangelist blog of Stephen Chapman, a Microsoft enthusiast, of an alleged road map for Office. The screenshot shows Office 14 as a 2010 release.

Of course, given Microsoft's history of product-release delays, it's entirely possible the Windows 7 release will be in 2010 as well, which is what the company has said publicly it is shooting for.

When asked about Office 14 in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft representatives had little to say, keeping in line with the company's overall public silence about the product.

Windows and Office long have been Microsoft's cash cows, but each is facing its own challenges due to current market pressures.

Many business customers are still running Windows XP, opting to skip Vista in favor of upgrading to Windows 7 when it's available. Microsoft is under pressure to ensure that Windows 7 can placate those customers and prove it was worth the wait.

Office is facing pressure on the consumer front from Web-based, less expensive or free productivity applications from Google, Adobe and Zoho. On the business front, smaller companies in particular are questioning their investment in Office and eyeing these Web-based applications that make sharing documents easier and more efficient, according to a recent report by Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish.

One of the only things Microsoft has said publicly about the Office 14 release is that it will include Office Web applications -- lightweight, Web-based versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint -- through its Office Live Workspace service in the same time frame as the desktop suite's release. Microsoft will test Office Web applications, an obvious response to pressure from Google Apps, later this year, it said last week at CES.

For enterprises, Microsoft has been promoting Office as the front end for a comprehensive worker collaboration and business intelligence platform that incorporates its SharePoint portal, CRM (customer relationship management) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, and its SQL Server database. Office 14 is expected to extend this integration.

One way it will do that, twentysix New York's Brust said, is through technology code-named Gemini that surfaces business-analytics information from the next version of SQL Server, code-named Kilimanjaro, into Microsoft Excel. He said he expects Gemini to be "a big driver for Excel 14 in the business space."

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