It appears that the next version of Microsoft Office won’t ship until next year. That’s the word from Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, who’s reporting that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told Wall Street analysts Tuesday that the upcoming Office 14 is slated for a 2010 release. The announcement likely rules out a dual launch of Office 14 and Windows 7, the latter of which is slated to ship later this year, possibly as early as this summer.
The Office 14 news doesn’t come as a big surprise, as Microsoft has yet to release a public beta of the productivity suite. It has, however, released an alpha version of Office 14’s server-based components to a select group of customers.
So does it matter whether Office 14 ships this year or next? Not really. While irate Vista users are clamoring for Windows 7, which is designed to fix many of Vista’s shortcomings, the same can’t be said for MS Office. In fact, a recent Forrester Research report states that many Word and Office users stick with their productivity apps out of habit. Think of it as an old marriage. You’re comfortable with Office, all of your files are in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats, and it’s too much trouble to try something new.
That may be changing however, as Web-hosted productivity tools like Google Docs offer an easier and cheaper solution for small businesses who want to share documents and work collaboratively, the report states. Microsoft is aware of this, naturally, and plans to bundle Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote with Office 14.
This means that Office 14 will be a lighter, smaller, Web-friendly suite. From a competitive standpoint, that makes sense. It’s unclear, however, whether that’s a compelling enough reason to upgrade.
Here’s hoping the new Office will offer a lot more than a smaller footprint. To me, the suite feels tired. In fact, I’m still not sure why I bothered to upgrade from Office 2003 to Office 2007. Yes, the new version is different in some ways, but it’s not dramatically better. Example: After using Word 2007’s task-oriented Ribbon User Interface for more than a year, I often yearn for the menus-and-toolbars motif of earlier versions.