Gates Announces Office 12 Timetable

Beta set for fall; final version due next year.

Microsoft Corp. last week officially confirmed that Office 12, the next version of its desktop productivity suite, will go into beta testing this fall and is expected to ship in the second half of next year.

Bill Gates, Microsofts chairman and chief software architect, announced the expected production timetable for Office 12 in a keynote address late last week to 100 CEOs from among the top 1,000 global companies assembled at Microsofts Redmond, Wash., campus.

At the event, Gates spoke about how the next generation of information worker applications will build on promising technologies such as machine learning; rich metadata for data and objects; new services-based standards for collaboration; advances in computing and display hardware; and self-administering, self-configuring applications and will transform them into software that will enhance the way people work.

Microsoft has said little about Office 12, a decision Gartner Inc. analyst Michael Silver, in San Jose, Calif., attributed to Microsoft still wanting users to buy current versions of Office.

Many customers have an enterprise agreement for Office so, if Microsoft pushed the release of Office 12 into 2007, this would be more than three years after the release of Office XP, and some of those customers might not get an Office upgrade, which would cause a lot of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, Silver said.

Takeshi Numoto, a senior director of Microsoft Office System, said that the Office team is looking at how best to incorporate peer-to-peer collaboration capabilities from recently acquired Groove Networks Inc. into Office 12. The new version of Office will allow corporate users to securely connect with a trusted partner outside their companies firewall to share documents.

In addition, Offices Excel component will let users create real-time visual dashboards and score cards directly from the data in spreadsheets and then share that business intelligence in a central Microsoft Office SharePoint portal site or work space, Numoto said.

"The IT department will also be able, using an Office 12 deliverable, to create central archival or expiration policies against certain document types. Information workers can then use Word or PowerPoint and other tools they are familiar with to create the documents they want and naturally respect those policies," Numoto said.

But Numoto was unwilling to give many more details about the Office 12 beta releases, features, components or SKUs. The first beta tests will start in the fall, and Microsoft is shooting to have the final deliverable released in the second half of next year, he said.

Office of the future

* Existing PowerPoint design templates to be increased and elevated and allow more customization

* Inclusion of peer-to-peer collaboration capabilities from recently acquired Groove Networks

* Excel will let users create real-time visual dashboards and score cards directly from the data within their spreadsheets

* An Office 12 deliverable will let central archival or expiration policies be created against certain document types