Microsoft said this week that it will start widespread testing of the next version of the Office suite sometime in the third quarter, in preparation for a final launch of the product in the first half of next year.
The product, which has been code-named Office 14, will be dubbed Office 2010 (as I predicted), with all of its related components also getting the 2010 moniker.
Microsoft offered only limited details on the testing. In an interview, Office executive Rajesh Jha, who leads the Exchange team, said technology previews are more limited than public betas and typically go to hundreds of thousands more technical users as opposed to public betas, which go to millions of people and are something that "much more closely resembles a final release."
The schedule is not as ambitious as the one Microsoft laid out last October, which had called for a technology preview last year to be followed by a beta this year. Some very early testing of Office 14 did take place in 2008, but Microsoft confirmed earlier this year that the final version of Office 14 would not come until 2010.
Jha said that the technology preview will include both the traditional desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote as well as the browser-based "Office Web Apps" that Microsoft is building. The browser-based versions will be somewhat more limited than their desktop counterparts, but will include basic editing abilities, Microsoft has said. The software maker has also said the browser-based applications will run in Safari and Firefox, in addition to Internet Explorer, which will take Office onto both Linux computers and the iPhone.
"As you know, IT is being asked to do more with less and keep people more productive," Jha said. "With the next wave (of Office), we really wanted to address these challenges. Let's help people be more productive, whether it be from a PC, or a browser or a phone."
The roadmap for Office 2010 testing came as an aside within a Microsoft announcement that it will launch this week a public beta of Exchange 2010, the next version of its e-mail server. That product, part of the Office 14 wave of products, will ship this year, Microsoft said.