Bill Gates, Microsofts chairman and chief software architect, on Thursday will confirm that the first beta testing cycle for Office 12, the next version of its desktop productivity suite, will begin this fall and that it currently plans to ship the final suite of products in the second half of 2006.
Gates will make that announcement in his keynote address, titled “The New World of Work” and which he will deliver to 100 CEOs from among the top 1,000 global companies Thursday morning at the ninth-annual CEO Summit at the Redmond, Wash., campus.
Microsoft Corp. so far has said very little publicly about Office 12, a fact noted at this weeks Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco, where Gartner analyst Michael Silver quipped, “So, what is Office 12? I dont know. Microsoft is not saying very much about it at the moment, as they want you to still buy the versions currently available.”
In his Thursday address, Gates also will talk about how, over the next decade, Microsoft sees a tremendous opportunity to help companies of all sizes maximize the impact of employees and workgroups, drive deeper connections with customers and partners, enable informed and timely decision-making, and manage and protect critical information.
He also will talk 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.
Gates will send out an “executive e-mail” to thousands of Microsofts staff, partners and customers on the same topic, a copy of which was seen by eWEEK. In the e-mail, he will talk about how Office 12 builds on the solid foundation of the existing Office system of programs and services.
“We will enable people to create more effective professional documents, access work information from anywhere, and better manage personal, team and project tasks. Were investing in a secure infrastructure that makes it easy for anyone to securely collaborate on documents and work processes,” Gates e-mail says.
Microsoft also is offering better data visualization and analysis tools that bring out the trends and patterns buried in mountains of data, Gates e-mail says. It adds that the company is making it easier for businesses to create, track, manage and distribute content both within and across organizational boundaries, while also offering open XML standards and rapid development tools so corporate developers can build and extend applications that specifically target their needs.
“Microsoft has been innovating for the information worker for more than two decades—and in many ways, weve only just begun to scratch the surface of how software can help people realize their full potential,” his e-mail concludes.
Takeshi Numoto, a senior director for the Microsoft Office System, told eWEEK on Wednesday that Gates also will tell the assembled CEOs that he sees six major trends in information work:
- The shift to a server-based economy;
- The notion of one world of business, where workers have to be able to communicate and work seamlessly with colleagues across the globe and who are now becoming unified by a market workplace;
- The notion of being “always on and always connected,” which refers to not only having access to the right information and the right people, but also being able to get actionable items out of all of that data;
- The notion of a transparent organization, in which workers are given all of the tools they need, but all of the necessary legislative and other frameworks are in place to make the company more transparent;
- The shrinking workplace where, as more people start retiring, there will be a growing need to retain their information and expertise; and
- How new workers can be given access to that wealth of data, information and work experience in a comprehensive way.
These trends set the basis for the technical advancements that Office 12 will bring to the market, Numoto said, adding that there will be five primary areas of focus in Office 12 that will map to the trends outlined above. These are:
- Individual impact, with which info workers can deliver better information faster. An example of this is how difficult it is for a user to turn bland bullet points into an attractive PowerPoint presentation. As such, the existing design templates in PowerPoint will be increased and elevated, with more customization allowed, he said.
- The need to provide greater collaboration, which lets users share information across company boundaries. The Office team is looking at how best to incorporate peer-to-peer collaboration capabilities from recently acquired Groove Networks.
Office 12 will allow users to securely connect with a trusted partner outside of their corporate firewall to share documents and track issues at a moments notice, from anywhere and at any time that they have Internet access.
- Knowledge discovery and insight. While knowledge workers have access to lots of data, the issue is how to give them insight into that and help them find and create good information from that. Maestro, a Microsoft deliverable before Office 12, is a good example of the direction Microsoft is headed in for this front.
Microsoft Office Excel will let users create real-time visual dashboards and scorecards directly from the data within their spreadsheets and then share that business intelligence in a central Microsoft Office SharePoint portal site or workspace
- Enterprise content life cycles. Today, exchanging documents through e-mail attachments is not very efficient, and it creates version and other problems. In Office 12, Microsoft will address the issue of better content management in a way that gives IT better control without colliding with the richness of the information workers tools and their need to be empowered.
“The IT department will be able, using an Office 12 deliverable, to create central archival or expiration policies against certain document types,” Numoto said.
“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. We are in a position to deliver complete scenarios that make that possible by focusing on development areas on both the server and client side.”
- Information solutions and IT fundamentals. InfoPath, which shipped with the Office 2003 wave of products, provides better information-gathering and integration with the line of business systems using XML as the lingua franca to have data transverse multiple systems seamlessly. “We will be amplifying that investment in XML, making sure that Office is easier to deploy and manager than ever before,” he said.
But Numoto was unwilling to give any more details about the Office 12 beta releases, features, components or SKUs, saying it is “too early to talk about our specific beta plans. The first beta will start in the fall, and we are shooting to have the final deliverable released in the second half of 2006,” he said.
But in a Q&A session with Microsoft corporate vice president Chris Capossela, posted to Microsofts own site, he says the company is expecting that more customers will help the company test Office 12 than in any other release of Office.
Asked about how Office 12 will take advantage of the new features and functionality expected in Longhorn, the next version of Windows, which is due to be released on the client in late 2006, Numoto again declined to talk about the specific Longhorn infrastructure Office 12 would exploit.
“We are certainly making sure that Office 12 will provide a great customer experience on Longhorn,” he said.
Numoto also declined to give any details on packaging, pricing or licensing for Office 12 and would only say that “we think there are a lot of things we will be delivering.”
“There well be more services, more servers, more scenarios that we are delivering against. The challenge is how we make sure that we come up with the best packaging, pricing and licensing schemes. Were just not at a stage to discuss that yet,” he said.
With regard to greater integration with business applications, Numoto pointed to the “Mendocino” agreement between Microsoft and SAP AG. He said the deal indicates that Microsoft intends to amplify its efforts in this area and make it easier for customers with both Office and SAP to provide a better out-of-the-box solution.
“Office does have Web Services and XML support today, but it does require customization work using development tools like Visual Studio Tools for Office 2003,” he said.
“We have an update of this, Visual Studio Tools for Office 2005, in beta now, which will enhance the programmability of Office as a development platform even further. This is just more evidence of how customers are leveraging Office as a front- to back-end system,” Numoto said.
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