Foley on Microsoft

What's Next for Microsoft Office?

Following with the rest of the company's new mission statement, the Office team has been focused on mobile, cloud and non-Windows platforms.

The Microsoft Office team is the poster child of One Microsoft as much, if not more, than any other Microsoft business these days.

Recently, the Office client-side team's priorities have changed from protecting the Windows franchise, to addressing the most popular mobile platforms first. On the server side, the priority is clearly the cloud. Office 365, which includes the cloud-hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, is updated nearly monthly.

The Office team has taken some recent uncharacteristic steps toward greater transparency by publishing a roadmap about some -- but not all -- plans for the Office platform. In the spirit of trying to outline key updates and fill in some of the missing likely pieces, here's what's in the pipeline:

Windows: Sources claim Microsoft is now targeting the spring of 2015 to deliver an updated version of most of its traditional Office desktop apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Lync and so on). Simultaneously, Microsoft is working on touch-first/Windows Store versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote (version 2) and possibly Outlook -- the app suite some call "Gemini." The new target date for that set of apps also is spring 2015, my sources say.

Android tablets: Microsoft is building a suite of core Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to run on Android tablets. The rumored target delivery date is before the end of this year, according to my sources. Many expect Microsoft to make an Office 365 subscription a requirement to unlock more than the most basic functionality, similar to the way Office on iPad works.

Mac OS X: The team that built Office for iOS, which Microsoft launched in late March, is the same one building it for Mac OS X. That portends the coming update to Mac OS X 11 might debut ahead of the Windows version -- later this calendar year -- but not necessarily. Traditionally, the Mac OS version of Office trails new Windows releases by six months or so.

iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices: Office Mobile already runs on these phones and is free to those iOS and Android users with Office 365 subscriptions -- and free and bundled for all Windows Phone users. Rumor has it that Microsoft is working on a new version of Office Mobile that might look and work more like the touch-first Office client releases (Office for iPad, Office for Android and Gemini). I haven't heard any delivery targets for these updates.

Web: Microsoft is continuing to add more features and functionality on a regular basis to Office Online -- the Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that can be viewed and edited in Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox. These free versions won't ever include every bell and whistle that's in their native counterparts, but Microsoft's plan supposedly is to continue to roll out improvements and updates on a steady basis. Microsoft also is updating locally installable, native versions of Outlook Web App for iOS and Android.

Windows Server: It's a good bet that some of the updates made to Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online will be on the 2015 feature list. Officials have started warning that not all of the latest Office 365 features such as Yammer, Oslo/Delve and Office will be available on-premises.

Office 365: Microsoft will continue to make feature updates to Office 365 for the foreseeable future. Office 365 will remain the place where brand-new features and functionality, such as the aforementioned Office Graph and Oslo/Delve app (a kind of Flipboard-type app for Office 365), debut first. The public roadmap is a good, though incomplete, resource for what's coming in the near term.

There are still plenty of unknowns about the future of Office. What's going to happen to SharePoint, now that Yammer has taken the lead in providing collaboration? What's going on with the Access client database? When and how will and Outlook (and Windows Mail) become more unified -- if not a single mail client? Hopefully more will become clear soon.

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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