Gates: New MS Office Coming in 2006

Tuesday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates shined some light on the arrival of Office 12. According to Gates, the Longhorn Office release will meet Microsoft's self-imposed development schedule and will ship some time in 2006. Until Tuesday, Microsoft was cautious about committing itself to any timeframe for Office 12.

The announcement confirms the timeline reported by Microsoft Watch, made in November 2004, stating Office 12 is pegged to be released to manufacturing by May 22, 2006 and will have a "street availability" of July 17.

In his speech to developers in Las Vegas, Gates said that the Office System is slated to have improvements made to business intelligence, document sharing features, rights management, scheduling, and workflow management.

"Those are areas where Office has gotten richer and will in the next big release, which is coming sometime next year," Gates told attendees. There is also an array of new Office server products on the horizon. These are rumored to include server versions of Excel, Visio and potentially InfoPath.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a beta of another vertical office server code-named Maestro, which provides server-based business management scorecard software. The breadth of Office System server development has left the rumor mill whirling about potential Web services.

Redmond may also launch a new charting application as part of Office 12. According to Microsoft Watch, the charting application may draw on Longhorn's Avalon graphics subsystem. Avalon will be back-ported to legacy edition of Windows to make the Office System more widely available.

"Microsoft has long talked about next Office release in the 'Longhorn timeframe,' so 2006 delivery isn't exactly shocking. Still, timing is significant, because Microsoft is trying to move customers to 64-bit and Longhorn," said Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox. "Operating systems don't sell in a vacuum; there need to be applications. Microsoft supported the move from 16-bit to 32-bit by releasing Windows 95 and Office 95 concurrently."

Office 12 is expected to precede Longhorn, which is also slated to arrive some time in 2006.

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