The next version of Microsoft Office will probably ship in early 2013, missing the launch of Windows 8 by at least a couple months.
Here’s how we know that.
This morning, Microsoft announced the first technical preview of what it’s calling Office 15. It’s a private beta distributed to Microsoft’s biggest and most important customers, and Microsoft isn’t saying anything about it, except that it will include updates to the Office clients for PCs and mobile devices, as well as all of the Office-branded servers — Exchange for email, SharePoint for collaboration, Lync for online meetings — and the Office 365 cloud sevices.
That’s a lot of work. Based on the schedule for the last version of Office, there’s no way Microsoft will get it done this year.
The technical preview for the product that became Office 2010 came out in July 2009. The product became commercially available 11 months later.
It’s almost February now. That means Office 2013 (or whatever it’s called) probably won’t be available to customers until late January 2013, missing the holiday season.
This could dampen the consumer launch of Windows 8, which is expected in time for the holiday this year.
One of the big questions about Windows 8 tablets is how will Microsoft convince people to buy them over an iPad, given the iPad’s huge lead?
Having unique apps will be key, and Office is probably the app that matters most to Microsoft customers. If there’s no tablet-optimised version of Office ready at launch, means that a lot of consumers will take a “wait and see” approach … or just buy an iPad instead.
In the corporate market, it won’t matter that much. A lot of Office and related server sales (about 60% of the Business Division’s total revenue) comes from long-term licensing agreements. Those usually come due every three years, with the June quarter and December quarter being the biggest two for renewals.
So as long as Microsoft has a stable beta and firm release date for Office 15 by late 2012, it should be able to capture corporate renewals that come due at the end of the year.
It’s important to note that Microsoft hasn’t said anything about actual release dates for either product. So it’s possible that both Windows 8 and Office 15 will be commercially available at the same time. But based on past release cycles, it’s not likely.
(One more note: Microsoft uses a bunch of terms like “launch” very loosely — they might “launch” a product on the day that the discs ship to PC makers. We’re talking about commercial availability — the day you can buy a copy.)