Who Cares That Office 14 Is Delayed? I Do, and So Should You

OK, I am a sucker for headlines that ask a question. But, yes, in response to an item posted by my colleague Jeff Bertolucci yesterday, I do care that Microsoft Office 14 won’t be released until 2010.

Why? Because it could easily be a watershed release and have a major impact on how we work. On that basis, people who follow Microsoft or use Office should have at least a passing interest in what happens with Office 14. I'll explain:

What little Microsoft has said about Office 14 is that it will combine Web-based applications with the familiar desktop suite. The obvious question is why, beyond offline access, someone would need both. Stated another way: How crippled will the online versions need to be in order for the desktop version to sell?

I wonder which applications won’t be available in online versions? I like Microsoft Publisher as a small-biz application, but I bet it won’t be available online. What makes me think Visio will remain desktop only? OneNote, however, might become available online as well as off.

Access has traditionally been the application that separated the expensive versions of the Office Suite from the consumer releases. Access and, more recently, Microsoft Outlook. What will happen to them?

I believe the world needs easy-to-use, inexpensive, multi-user databases as online applications. People will use online, shared spreadsheets for this, but we really need something that makes it easy to built forms and reports and allow groups of people to share the application all at once.

This online database doesn’t have to be relational, but it does have to be inexpensive. I’ve yet to see anything that fulfills these requirements. Intuit’s QuickBase used to be a favorite, but it has become expensive. I need for Microsoft or Google to offer this for free.

I also wonder what Microsoft will do to create a better business case for using its Office Servers, which are being updated ahead of the Office 14 release. Maybe there is some functionality that Microsoft could offer that would justify a server purchase to offset the loss of desktop revenue?

Since there has been no public beta of Office 14, it is hard to say what state of development the new version is in. It’s possible that Redmond wants to see how well Windows 7 is received and might tailor the new Office to dovetail with whatever people like about the new Windows.

Office 2007 was closely tied to Windows Vista and seems to have suffered as a result. Will Office 14 suffer by Windows 7? The other problem with Office 2007 is that it’s just so different from the Office versions people have become familiar with. Will Office 14 undo this?

I think Office 2007 really is the best Office suite ever, but it’s not so much better that many users felt an urgent need to upgrade. Further, a mixed Office environment could be tricky to support as different groups of users faced very different user interfaces, depending upon version of Office they were using.

Will Office 14 build on Office 2007 or diverge? Will there be a new, simplified Office suite offered both online and off and a separate desktop-only product? I am not sure even Microsoft knows at this point, which is why we have the delay until 2010.
But, even if Microsoft itself doesn’t know, I do care what the company decides and how the results of those decisions play out.

In a typical day, David Coursey uses two or three different versions of Microsoft Office, as well as Apple’s iWork. And people wonder why he seems so confused. Write him: david@coursey.com.

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