Microsoft's industry leading document and productivity suite, Microsoft Office, has seen new competition from the likes of Mozilla (Thunderbird), Open Office, Google (Google Docs, GMail), and others. However, Microsoft continues to lead the way in both revenue and user base, and is working hard to push the boundaries of the Office product.
Today it announced in an exclusive Q&A article the official release details on the successor to Office 2007, Office 2010. Most important is that it is coming soon -- this year. The first of its components will land with Exchange 2010, set for the second half of the year. The rest of Office 2010 — including Office Web applications, SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010 will be released as a technical preview in third quarter of 2009, much like the Windows 7 beta program. The finished products will ship in the first half of 2010.
A big focus of the new suite is to provide a cohesive platform across an increasingly mobile computing world. While traditional versions will be included for installation on PCs and laptops, the Office suite will also be available as internet applications and on mobile phones, including, reportedly, the iPhone.
Microsoft's Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management Group, describes, "With these new products we are giving people a familiar interface across PCs, mobile phones and browsers to make it even easier for them to create, communicate and collaborate from any location. IT professionals will benefit from a choice of new delivery and new licensing models as well as from improved management options to better control costs, and enhanced security across all locations. And through our integrated infrastructure, businesses can more easily deploy, manage and help secure corporate assets and comply with government regulations."
Another concern for Microsoft has been to make its APIs friendlier to developers. It says it has made considerable advances towards making its Office APIs standards compliant and more accessible. As evidences by the success of Yahoo Widgets in the TV world or Apple's iPhone, having a solid set of APIs can make (or break) a product, these days.
Security also is a focus of the new suite. It looks to close past security openings and provide a fundamentally more secure architecture. This is especially important as Microsoft moves to a mixed deployment for Exchange 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010, both with local offerings, and for central online offerings, via its cloud computing/serving business.
Exchange 2010 -- the Office email software -- is one program that got special TLC from Microsoft. The company has been actively testing it since October 2007, and has deployed it at 2,000 universities, with over 2 million active users. With this strategy Microsoft is confident that it is very ready for even the largest business deployments.
The testing also allowed it to add many new and useful features to the software. Writes Mr. Capossela:
Among the new benefits that help people save time and money, Exchange 2010 introduces a personal e-mail archive to not only address compliance and regulatory needs by making mail easier to manage and search across the organization, but which frees up space on production servers and improves performance. Customers can lower costs by replacing their traditional voice mail system with Exchange 2010’s unified messaging solution that now provides text previews of voice mail messages so users may act upon them accordingly, directly from their mailbox. It also introduces new capabilities through Outlook 2010 that combine related messages into a single conversation with the added option to remove oneself from irrelevant e-mail threads. Another addition is the new Mail Tips feature, which will warn users from making embarrassing missteps before they hit send on problem e-mails — such as accidentally e-mailing a big distribution list or sending e-mail when a recipient is out of office, not to mention reducing extra steps and calls to the helpdesk. Those are features I’m sure we can all appreciate.
Another interesting tidbit is that as part of Exchange 2010, Microsoft will be adding Outlook 2010 to Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari browsers, traditional competitors to its internet explorer. The third party browsers will now have full access to Office Outlook Web Access with Office Communicator Web Access. If nothing else, this should go a ways towards getting the EU and other antitrust regulators of Microsoft's back in terms of browser competition.
While most users and developers will have to wait a few more months to officially get their hands on the Office 2010 technical preview, Microsoft's early description of the product certainly sounds appealing. Simply the ability to have a copy of Office for smart phones suitable for full viewing and minor editing of documents would be enough to broaden Microsoft's user base (many Office readers are already offered, but most lack the ability to properly read more complex documents, and lack significant editing capabilities).