Microsoft to skip “unlucky” Office 13

We’re sure that Microsoft’s massive Office team had a few days off once Office 2007 was signed off and sent for DVD duplication but they’re now well underway shaping the next version of Office suite.

Right now it’s just called Office 14 – Microsoft has long eschewed fancy codenames for the Office suite instead favouring the simpler version number of each release.

Office 2007 was officially version 12 of the suite so next up should be Office 13 “but that’s is an unlucky number so we’re going to skip Office 13 and call the next one Office 14” says Jensen Harris Group Program Manager for Microsoft’s Office User Experience Team and the man behind the radical ribbon interface of Office 2007.

“Our job isn’t done here (with Office 2007) we still have some tricks up out sleeve” according to Harris who says the team is “in the early stages of planning the next version of Office.”

“We’re currently immersed in that early and very creative part of the product cycle. We’re looking at the customer feedback that we’re starting to get from real people going to the store and buying Office 2007 and also from our corporate customers and also just thinking about what problems we have left in the user experience.”

Among those issues in Office 2007 is the inconsistency between applications when it comes to the revised interface. Only Word Excel PowerPoint and the messaging window of Outlook use the ribbon known officially known as the ‘Fluent’ interface.

“One of the things that everyone asks is if we will be moving Fluent to more of the programs in Office 14. We didn’t implement the Ribbon in Publisher 2007 or the main application window in Outlook 2007 and that’s certainly something that we’re considering very strongly.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’re going to evaluate every single program in Office and see whether (Fluent) makes sense or not and whether it’s the right step for that program to take. But undoubtedly we’ll see more of the Fluent UI in Office in the future and maybe even elsewhere at Microsoft.”

At this early stage there are no specific details on what’s being tossed into the Office 14 mix although speaking at last year’s Software 2006 conflab Microsoft corporate vice president Simon Witts spoke of Office 14 focussing on “role-based productivity.”

“We’ll have one for sales R&D and HR for example. You can start to imagine a world of Office as a business application platform” Witts said.

Other bullet-points from early Office 14 presentations use the same broad headings as could have been pulled from any Office slideshow over the past decade: think “Enterprise Content Management” “Communication and Collaboration” and “Business Process and Business Intelligence”.

Ho-hum. We’d much rather see a heading like “Office Online” with a set of hosted Internet versions of the core Office applications or at the very least a chunk of online storage where you can not only store and sync selected documents but also personalised settings that are applied to whatever local version of Offce you’re using. And we’d rather not have to wait until 2009 to see it.

What would you like to see in Office 14?

David Flynn visited Microsoft’s US campus courtesy of Microsoft Australia.