updated 02:10 pm EST, Mon January 30, 2012
Office 15 enters preview but may miss 2012
Microsoft corporate VP PJ Hough confirmed that the temporarily-named Office 15 had just entered the Technical Preview phase in what could create concerns for Windows 8 tablets. The stage sees a small group of customers get early access in secret to offer feedback as Microsoft moves towards a beta and an eventual release. Hough couldn't address rumors and leaks, but he did promise that it would be the first time Microsoft would simultaneously update Office's web, cloud, and server apps on both desktop and mobile.
Insiders have tipped ZDNet that the preview may be part of a very long development cycle. The aim is reportedly for a release to manufacturing (RTM) by the end of 2012, which could see it shipping as late as 2013. Employees have reportedly considered calling it Office 2013 if it ships late into the year.
The strategy could see an awkward period for Microsoft where it misses one of the claimed core advantages for its tablets. Office 15 is known to be the first tablet-native version of the suite and will likely be the first version with support for ARM processors. With Windows 8 already due to reach beta in late February and possibly shipping months earlier, it could leave those on Intel-based Windows 8 tablets using the old, non-touch Office, while ARM tablet owners could be made to use web apps or nothing at all.
Microsoft considers tablets as PCs and believes that having access to desktop-level apps could be key to taking market share away from the iPad as well as Android devices. Going without could complicate the launch and see customers either hold off or choose another platform first.