Foley on Microsoft

Future of Office: What We Know So Far

Mary Jo Foley offers a round-up of all the inside Office information she's been tracking.

The Windows development team at Microsoft isn't the only one cranking to develop and deliver its next release. The Office team is just as busy -- and perhaps even more so, given all of the different platforms and form factors it's targeting.

For those who want a heads-up as to what's coming down the Office pike in the next year or so, here's a compendium of all the client-side Office futures information I've been tracking.

The Office honchos have been relatively open about their general intentions for the product going forward. They've said they plan to enhance "creation experiences," like video and image editing. They're going to soup up social-networking capabilities for both businesses and consumers. They're going to improve the built-in business intelligence and analytics capabilities of the product and make it more supportive of meetings -- both formal business meetings and impromptu ones between individuals.

Luckily, for those of us who just can't wait for the first test build, there have been a few leaked "Office 15" builds over the last few months. As of mid-2011, it seems the Office team is in the midst of working on the internal Milestone 2 (M2) build of the next version of Office, which various tipsters have said may be done by late 2012 or early 2013.

As is typical with Office, there are, based on the leaked bits, lots of fairly minor feature tweaks in the next release. But there also seems to be a brand-new Office application coming with the next suite, something code-named "Moorea." Moorea looks and feels a lot like the Office Labs "Canvas for OneNote" app that Microsoft was testing a while back. Canvas for OneNote allows users to navigate, edit and display their OneNote notebooks in new ways.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of other Office fronts where things are happening beyond the basic PC suite. The team is rejiggering Office (I'm not clear if it's a simple recompile or actually something more) so that it will work on ARM-based Windows 8 tablets, not just on x86-based machines. If I were a betting woman, I'd wager that Microsoft is doing something to this version of Office to make it work and look better on the touch-centric, HTML-happy Windows 8.

There may or may not be a port of Office for the iPad in the works. I'm on the fence as to whether Microsoft will ever make one of the full Office suites available for platforms beyond the current two: Windows and Mac OS. Microsoft already made a OneNote port for the iPhone available; it likely wouldn't be much of a stretch for the 'Softies to release more of its Office suite members for the iPhone and iOS-based iPad, I'd think.

I'm sure there are plenty in Redmond's hallowed halls who believe the Web-ified versions of Microsoft Office apps -- known as Office Web Apps -- are good enough for the iPad crowd (even though the apps don't allow users to do many of the things they can when Office runs natively). And speaking of Office Web Apps, Microsoft is continuing to make gradual updates to that offering on a regular basis and offered official support for Office Web Apps running in the Google Chrome browser in June, when the first service pack for Office 2010 was delivered.

On the phone front, Microsoft is in the midst of redoing the Office hub on Windows Phone to flesh out the platform's support of Office Web Apps and SkyDrive. When Microsoft updates the phone OS with the "Mango" (Windows Phone 7.5) bits later this fall, Microsoft is promising it will enable more seamless sharing between the Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps on the phone and in the cloud, and not just OneNote, as is currently the case.

My takeaway from all this: Microsoft is continuing, steady as she goes, with Office. I'm not expecting any radical departures in features, delivery mechanisms or new platform support in the coming year. The strong sales of Office 2010 have emboldened the company, I think, putting to rest fears that Google Apps would put a damper on Microsoft's biggest cash cow. Do you see anything on the Office horizon that I don't?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.


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