The Office team beat its own deadline of early 2008 and will release Office 2007 Service Pack 1 Dec. 11.
In an unusual move, the software maker limited testing of the update to the productivity suite to a few months and only at large enterprises in its Technology Adopter Program, as well as internally at Microsoft, to shave time off the production schedule, sources told eWEEK.
The decision to limit testing of the service pack was made largely because the team felt they were not really modifying anything that would impact users in a big way.
"We weren't adding new features that we needed broad feedback on, and our TAP partners were talking to us all the time about their experiences," said Reed Shaffner, a product manager for Microsoft Office.
The update will bring improvements in stability, security and performance and will be compatible with Windows Server 2008.
Read more here about what Microsoft did to make Office 2007 more secure.
Microsoft executives had said in November at its annual TechEd IT Forum in Barcelona that Office 2007 SP1would be available in early 2008.
Microsoft's decision to limit the testing cycle may reveal more about adoption of the software than the strategy of the development team, said Rob Enderle, an analyst at the Enderle Group.
"The main reason for the haste in getting Office SP1 out the door is that its adoption is linked to that of the latest operating system—in this case Windows Vista, where uptake has been low," Enderle told eWEEK. "The real issue is they don't have that many people ready to do a broad beta due to poor Vista penetration in business. They are doing the first service pack to help get people to adopt this thing."
But, Microsoft's Shaffner said, if it turned out that customers wanted access to Office betas moving forward, that is something the company would evaluate.
Microsoft will also release a White Paper Dec. 11 that details everything in the service pack and walks customers through how it may impact their deployment and what might be modified if they do install it, Shaffner said.
Microsoft listened to feedback from analysts and others and will only release the service pack through automatic updates three to six months after launch, and only after a customer had been given 30-days notice of this.
"So, at a minimum, customers will have 30 days to evaluate the service pack and whether or not they want to install it," he said. "Users could also use group policies to turn off automatic updates if they so chose."
Next page: Do It Yourself Testing
While Microsoft was also not aware of any big breaking changes being introduced with the service pack and did not expect it to impact users in a major way, Shaffner said he did recommend that customers do some testing in their enterprise environment before rolling it out to see how it affects things such as their custom applications.
For Tom Rizzo, the director for SharePoint, SP1 is not a new product release but rather a wrap up of all product fixes to date, which bring performance, stability and security enhancements.
"There is not a ton in it in terms of new functionality, especially on the Office client side, while there are just two key things we added to the service pack on the server side that customers will be really interested in besides all of the fixes," he told eWeek.
Microsoft has added NAP for Linux and the Mac. Click here to read more.
Some of the technology fixes from new technologies such as Search Server 2008 Expresswere also included in the service pack, he said, noting that there were some enhancements to existing technologies like to SharePoint's People Picker. The changes now let users restrict which people can be added rather than simply giving them access to the entire Active Directory.
More than 500 of the fixes in SP1 were as a result of feedback Microsoft had received through its online monitoring systems as a result of product crashes since launch as well as in customer feedback, Shaffner said.
"General Outlook performance has been greatly improved, as has the way HTML is presented in Outlook, and we have increased performance around search in Outlook. We have also fixed at least the top five crashes across all the products in the Office System family," Shaffner said.
There were also some improvements in terms of hydration in moving formats back and forth, given that Office 2007 uses the new Open XML file formats, he said.
Read more here about the delay in Office 2008 for the Mac.
Rizzo noted that there were additional service packs to come, all of which would be based on customer feedback and address their concerns.
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