Just because Office 14 won't be fully released until next year doesn't mean consumers will have to wait that long to try out the products.
In an interview this week Senior Vice President Chris Capossela said that Microsoft will offer more details on the beta "relatively soon," noting that Office has traditionally made its products available to millions of testers well before the final version ships.
"That's been true of the suite," he said. "That will certainly be true of the suite this time and of the Web apps."
With Office 14, Microsoft has said it will offer desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote as well as versions that can run online in a browser, be it Internet Explorer, Safari, or Firefox. As previously noted, that means that for the first time Office will also work on both Linux and Apple's iPhone. CEO Steve Ballmer told financial analysts last week that Office 14 would not come out this year.
Microsoft has already started testing some of the components that make up the Office 14 wave of products. Capossela wouldn't go into too many specifics about when Office 14 would ship, but said Microsoft hoped not to be too far beyond its typical cycle which sees new versions roughly every three years.
"I don't think Office 14 is going to be wildly different," Capossela said. "Office has had a pretty predictable ship rate and I think we will continue with that."
The last version of Office, Office 2007 was finalized and made available to large businesses in late 2006 and had its consumer launch with Windows Vista in January 2007.
As for the new Web-based products, Capossela reiterated that they are already being tested "with a small set of people."
"We will look to expand that number relatively soon," he said. The final version, though he said, won't come until the desktop version of Office 14 is also done. "In terms of when things will be completely done we'll take the beta name off when the wave is completely done," he said.
For businesses, though, Capossela said Microsoft is competing plenty well with its current suite, Office 2007. Although the company had some high-profile customers consider a move to Google Apps, Capossela said that the pressure has actually waned some.
"The bloom is off the rose I would say when it comes to Google in the enterprise," he said. "Last year there was a nice halo effect for their brand for their business offerings."
But he said, the actual business adoption of Google's productivity software has been low. "I think the reality is Google isn't an enterprise company. Microsoft wasn't an enterprise company a long time ago and it took us years to earn the credibility."
Capossela pointed to the fact that many of Google's products, even the ones it sells to businesses are still in beta form.
"Businesses don't bet on beta," he said. "Google has been in beta for their stuff for I don't know how long...Companies have a very hard time paying for software that says it's in beta."
But customers, he said, do see Web-based productivity software as a way to expand the number of workers who get access to software. That's particularly true in industries like manufacturing and hospitality, where many employees don't have their own PC.
"Certain industries lend themselves much more to a lightweight, deskless (approach)," he said. "There's no PC (that) they have there as part of their daily job but there is an opportunity to provide them with more technology."
No word on Web apps pricing
Microsoft already has a cheaper "deskless" option for companies that want to provide such workers access to both Exchange e-mail and to a SharePoint portal server. The company hasn't said exactly how it will price access to the new Office Web Apps, but it has said that customers that want to provide certain workers only with Web-based Office access will be able to do so.
"This will become a lot clearer when we finalize our packaging," Capossela said.
In the time that Microsoft has been building Office 14, cost-sensitivity has increased as the economy has deteriorated. Although Capossela said Microsoft is still building the same product it set out to, he acknowledged that the company has changed its messaging somewhat.
"We change the way we talk to customers to be much more focused on how we can take costs out," he said. But, at the same time, Capossela said that businesses want to hear about more than just ways to save.
"I do think that beyond the cost savings there is a thirst for the new styles of productivity that take into account collaboration," he said. Many businesses see the amount of time and energy workers put into social networking and personal blogs.
"A lot of IT people see that energy going outside of the business space," Capossela said. "How do you actually put that into more of a business context?"
Office, particularly SharePoint, already has tools for turning a portal into more of a companywide social-networking site. The company has said it wants to extend that with the new version, although Capossela declined to offer any new details on what shape that might take.