Microsoft Opens Office 14 Kimono, Slightly

The follow-up to Office 2007 will include lightweight browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that focus on collaboration.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

March 2, 2009

4 Min Read

Microsoft has yet to say much about the next version of Office, but the company is starting to let a few details fly, and more information about the release schedule and features should be available soon.

While Microsoft is still keeping a lid on the full scope of Office 14, Chris Capossela, senior VP of the company's information worker group, laid out the suite in broad strokes in an interview Monday. The executive noted that with this release, Microsoft would be lending particular focus to collaboration, new developer scenarios, and evolving Office's role in Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy via new Web applications and improved mobile access.

Microsoft has begun testing Office 14 with select customers, and Capossela is already running a test version of Office 14 on his work computer. "The vast majority of the team is working hard on Office 14," he said.

However, it's still unclear when Microsoft will release Office 14. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said last week that it wouldn't be released until 2010, meaning that it will likely come after the release of Windows 7.

Office Web Applications, lightweight browser-based versions of the full client versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that will include the ability to edit, view, and collaborate on documents, will be a key new element of Office 14. Microsoft demonstrated Office Web Applications at its Professional Developers Conference last October but left out many of the details.

According to Capossela, one important feature of Office Web Applications will be that files created in Office or Office Web Applications will maintain full fidelity as they are passed back and forth between the Web and client versions of Office. "Unlike Google and Zoho, we won't crush stuff the Word user created in the first place," Capossela said.

Office Web Applications will also support REST APIs, meaning that developers will be able to pull data created, for example, in Excel's Web app version, into their own Web applications. "We have a big focus on developers," Capossela said, pointing beyond Office Web Applications to the whole Office 14 suite. "Part of that focus is around new APIs, part of that is around interoperability documentation, so people can make their solutions work with Office more easily than they did in the past."

Silverlight, Microsoft's rich Web application plug-in, will play a significant role to help power the Office Web Applications' user interfaces, but only if the customer has downloaded the Silverlight browser plug-in. Otherwise, customers will be able to use a non-Silverlight version of Office Web Applications. Microsoft also intends to use its Windows Azure cloud computing platform more and more to power applications like Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, which should get significant updates when their on-premises analogs are updated with Office 14. Exchange Online, for example, already uses Azure for identity services. That means companies that want to migrate from Exchange to Exchange Online don't have to manage separate directories on premises and in the cloud.

The Web isn't the only medium where Microsoft is broadening Office's reach. Microsoft also plans to bulk up Office Mobile as part of the Office 14 wave of releases. With smartphones becoming more prevalent, more and more people are using applications like Outlook Mobile.

In Office Mobile for Office 14, for example, mobile device users won't just be able to view Office documents, as they can today. They'll also be able to annotate them, collaborate, and do things like work more closely with SharePoint. "Office Web Applications become far more important given that smart phones are taking up a far larger percentage of the overall mix of phones that are shipping in the world," Capossela said.

Among the collaboration features, along with the ability to simultaneously edit documents as has already been discussed, Office 14 will offer the ability to more easily capture Web content and put it into documents or share it. "Multiuser authoring is fun and interesting, but also just being able to go out and peruse the Internet and grab video files, pictures, and snippets and automatically have them sourced when you put them in your document, those are new styles of researching and collaborating that are really important," Capossela said.

It's still too early for Microsoft to begin talking about the price of Office 14, but don't expect any huge price swings. "We feel incredibly good about the price of Office," Capossela said, pointing to Office 2007's success. "We've never had more people buying Office at retail than we've had with Office 2007."

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About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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