Microsoft Already Working on the Next Version of Office

Microsoft is six months away from its June launch of Office 2010, but a company blog posting indicates that the next version of Office is already in the planning stages. Microsoft is considering improving SQL Server support for Office 15, and is soliciting feedback from potential users. Through wide beta releases, Microsoft has developed a strategy of encouraging massive amounts of feedback for its various software platforms in development, allowing it to refine features and target problems well before the release date. Office 2010 takes the traditionally desktop-bound productivity suite and tries to move some of its functionality into the cloud.

Microsoft's Office 2010 may be more than six months away from launch, but Redmond is already planning the next iteration of its productivity-applications suite, according to a recent company blog posting.

"As Office 2010 nears shipping, we are starting to plan Office 15," Greg Lindhorst, a software manager at Microsoft, wrote in a Dec. 3 posting on the Microsoft Access Team Blog. "One area that we are considering improving is our SQL Server support. Based on what I've heard from the community, that would be most welcome."

Lindhorst inevitably cautioned that the development process is just beginning: "Note that we are very early in planning, and considering many possible areas of investment, [so] I unfortunately can't commit to any actual improvements at this time."

However, Lindhorst did post some questions to the community about SQL Server ("What existing features in Access, that are targeted at SQL Server, are falling short of your needs?"), as well as a way to e-mail him through the blog.

In the meantime, Microsoft seems focused on rolling out Office 2010, whose June 2010 launch date was confirmed by Microsoft in a Dec. 1 e-mail to eWEEK. At November's Professional Developers Conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft released the beta versions of Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, Project 2010, Visio 2010, Office Mobile 2010 and Office Web Apps, all of which can be downloaded from this site.

Click here to see a gallery of improvements to Microsoft Office 2010.

Microsoft is hoping that, by releasing the beta version of Office 2010 to a deep pool of testers, it can begin refining Office 2010 well ahead of its summer release. A similar strategy came into play with Windows 7, which also underwent broad beta testing months before its Oct. 22 release, and the Dec. 3 posting on the Microsoft Access Team Blog reinforces Microsoft's strategy of soliciting massive amounts of feedback about products early in the development process.

Unlike previous versions of Office, which primarily centered on the desktop, Microsoft has made an attempt with Office 2010 to embrace the cloud. Microsoft Live subscribers can access free, stripped-down editions of OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint through the browser. The full suite of tools, however, will only be available to those who purchase the full version of Office 2010.

Improvements to Office 2010 are multitudinous, including a Navigation Pane that replaces Word 2007's Document Map feature, contextual spell-checking, tweaks to Excel's PivotTable and PivotChart, and additions to Access that include alerting the user to blocked active content. A full eWEEK review of the Office 2010 beta can be found here.

Although Office has long been the productivity suite of record for many consumers and businesses, Microsoft has found itself potentially challenged by the rise in cloud-based productivity suites such as Google Apps.

But Microsoft's hopes for Office 2010 revolve around more than keeping its productivity software market share: Along with other flagship programs such as Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008, the new version of Office is being counted on to help Microsoft revive its fortunes after a few quarters of declining revenue.