A Microsoft vice president this week confirmed that the company intends to continue its track record of shipping a new version of its Office System software every two to three years. That would place the release date for the new product suite, referred to within Microsoft as "Office 12," between October 2005 and October 2006, since the last version shipped in October 2003. But Chris Capossela, vice president of Microsoft's information worker product management group, said he isn't ready to discuss any specific dates.
"What I am ready to say is Office has had a fantastic 100 percent track record of shipping a new version every two to three years after the prior version," he said, "and I think the next version will be in that time frame too."
Capossela offered scant details about the new functionality expected to be in Office 12. But he noted that corporate customers have been asking for more help managing documents and other content.
Microsoft's main document management product is SharePoint Portal Server, which is part of the Office System. Capossela said the company wants "to raise the bar in what SharePoint does," but he sees a "great partner opportunity" for other software vendors to address gaps in functionality.
Another customer request Microsoft will try to tackle is to make it easier for mobile users to connect to company data, according to Capossela. He said users currently can't get to SharePoint Portal sites unless they "VPN in" to the corporation.
Customers also have asked Microsoft for an easier way to route XML-based forms around their companies, he said. They also want to be able to reach users who don't have InfoPath software, an Office System 2003 product Microsoft launched to enable users to create XML-based forms and submit them to XML-enabled systems.
Speculation is mounting that Microsoft may add new server products to its Office System. But Capossela said the company has made no decisions on how the new functionality will be packaged.
"It is very much more just pouring gas onto that fire of what we're doing already with Office System," Capossela said. "So if someone says, 'Hey, is there going to be an Excel server? Is there going to be a Word server? Is there going to be a Visio server?' We literally don't know yet."
But Microsoft is pushing ahead on its vision of an Office System that includes desktop applications, server software and services designed to help teams collaborate. Capossella acknowledged that it has been a challenge to change users' perceptions of a product that has long been viewed in a different way.
"It's a big, new mission to turn from a productivity suite into this whole Office System, and so far, the sales, partner and deployment progress all look really promising," he said.
Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner, said momentum among corporate users appears to be building for the Office 2003 desktop applications. A recent survey of 184 clients attending a Gartner conference showed that half of the clients' combined total of PCs are expected to be running Office 2003 by the end of next year, he said.
Silver added that he expects the new version of Office System to ship in the same time frame as the next major Windows release, code-named Longhorn -- "not before the second half of 2006."