Services & Software

FAQ: Looking into Office 12

Here's what you can expect from Microsoft's radical revamp of Office, due next year.

Office 12 is Office like you have never seen before.

With the update, due in the second half of 2006, Microsoft is planning its biggest-ever redesign of its productivity suite, starting with a new user interface. The company hopes to bring an end to the days of clicking on three menus and two dialog boxes just to format a document. In their place, Microsoft has added a ribbon at the top of most documents that aims to offer the most likely menu choices.

The radical revamp could help the company as it seeks to stave off competition from OpenOffice and others, but it also risks alienating those who like things the way they are.

What are the big changes?
Office 12 users will immediately notice big changes to the look of Office programs, particularly Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

The keystone of the new user interface is a "ribbon" of frequently used commands that offers different options, depending on the task a user is performing. In addition to the new user interface, Microsoft has outlined several other areas of improvement, including enhancements to individual productivity, collaboration and management of corporate business documents.

What about on the server side?
Microsoft has shown off some new server-based capabilities, such as document rights handling and work flow management. However, the company hasn't said how it will sell those capabilities. There have also been rumors of some new products, such as Excel server software, but Microsoft has yet to say which server products it will offer as part of Office 12.

Will Office 12 require Windows Vista?
No. Although there were some initial plans to more tightly couple the new products, they will work independently of one another. There may be some features that "light up" only when a user is running Vista, however.

When will it be available?
The final release is slated for the second half of next year. An initial developer beta version was released in November, with a more public test version expected by spring 2006.

What versions will Office 12 come in?
Microsoft has yet to announce most of its packaging decisions. CEO Steve Ballmer did say at a July financial-analysts meeting that there would be a new Office Premium edition, but he did not reveal more details.

What will it cost?
Microsoft hasn't yet specified.