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Office 14: Worth a wait?

In a chat with Wall Street analysts, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confirms that you'll have to wait until 2010 to get your hands on the next version of Office.

REDMOND, Wash.--Among the many tidbits in Steve Ballmer's talk to financial analysts Tuesday was the fact that folks should not expect the next version of Office, code-named Office 14, to come out this year.

"From a strategy perspective, the next big innovation milestone is Office 14, our next Office release, which will not be this year," Ballmer told the Wall Street crowd. "There's a version of SharePoint. There's a version of Exchange. There's a new version of Office Live."

As it has been with Windows 7, Microsoft has been cagey about when to expect Office 14, though some thought it might yet come out this year. Windows 7 is still expected to come out later this year, in time to be on PCs sold during the holiday shopping season.

With the last update to Office, Office 2007, Microsoft made a lot of changes to the way Office looked, completely changing the user interface and adding the "ribbon" metaphor.

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This time around, the changes are focused in other areas. One of the big changes with Office 14 will be the fact that, in addition to the desktop versions, Microsoft will also be coming out with a set of "Office Web Applications" essentially slimmed-down versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that can run via a Web browser. And not just Internet Explorer. Firefox and Safari support will mean that Office, for the first time, will also run on Linux machines as well as Apple's iPhone.

Microsoft has started early testing of both Office 14 and its Web-based parts, but public testing is not expected until later this year. Exchange 14 is also being tested by about 4 million people, though many of them don't even know it. That's because Microsoft's Outlook Live service (formerly known as Exchange Labs) for Live@edu users at tionaeducal institutions is running on an early version of the new Exchange..

As for naming, I'd expect Microsoft to call it Office 2010, based on past naming conventions as well as a few slips of the tongue I heard in some meetings this week.

Speaking of which, I'll have a bunch more posts in the coming days on the making of Office 14, based on a number of in-person meetings with folks here this week.

As a teaser, here's a video of Microsoft's Antoine Leblond talking about some of the thinking that went into Office 14.