Office 2007 in October?

One recent report says Office 2007 is four to eight weeks behind schedule. That would put its release date in early October, much later than most people expect. Think you've got a better guess? Post it here.

I’m a little surprised at the lack of reaction to this BusinessWeek Online report from last Thursday, which claims that Office 2007 is going to arrive later than expected:

Internal plans had called for Microsoft to finish development on the software by August. … Yet company sources say development delays led Microsoft to push its release back about eight weeks. For one, problems with new graphics programs in the PowerPoint presentation software cause some instability, the sources say. Now the company is targeting late September or October for product completion, with general availability to customers shortly thereafter.

I don’t have any inside information, but that date sounds exactly right to me, based on what I see in current Office betas and a review of previous Office beta programs. Think you can guess the exact date? You’ll get your chance at the end of this post.

First, a little background:

Office 2007 Beta 1 has been in testers’ hands since November 16, 2005. I’ve lost count of the number of features that Microsoft developers have promised will be ready for Beta 2, along with hints that the ribbon and other interface elements are getting a pretty good overhaul in the name of usability. In addition, Beta 2 is going to be publicly available as part of a preview program that anyone can try. So the sheer number of changes is daunting, and the quality bar is very, very high, which means that Microsoft can’t afford to rush the testing process.

Microsoft has publicly committed to delivering a “Beta-1 Technical Refresh” in the March timeframe, with Windows Vista compatibility high on its list of changes. The actual release data for Beta 2 is being held close to the vest, but you can bet it’s not imminent (if it were close to being complete now, why bother with that interim release?).

So, if Beta 2 is ready in April, how long will the Office dev team need after that to get the code ready to ship? A little history might help:

Office XP Beta 1 (still code-named Office X) was released on August 4, 2000. Beta 2 was delivered 80 days later, on October 23, 2000. It took another 133 days, until March 5, 2001, before Office XP was released to manufacturing.

The next major upgrade, Office 2003, hit its Beta 1 milestone on October 2, 2002, but it didn’t move at the same pace as its predecessor. A half-million people reportedly tested the public Beta 2, which was ready on March 9, 2003, 158 days after the first beta. It took even longer (163 days) before the code was released to manufacturing on August 19, 2003.

Office 2007 Beta 1 was unveiled on November 16, 2005. A mid-April arrival for Beta 2 would put it 150 days after that milestone, which is perfectly in keeping with the pace set three years ago. If the road to RTM takes as long as it did last time, we’re looking at a ship date in early October.

If my concern with ship dates seems a little obsessive, keep in mind that I have skin in the game. I’m working right now on Special Edition Using Office 2007 for Que, so getting the dates right is essential to my sanity. If we get too far ahead of the software and try to do too much too soon, the result is a flurry of revisions at the end of the editing process. If the software comes in early, we have to race to get the last chapters done. Neither alternative is conducive to quality.

I'm staking my claim on October 3 (and hedging my bet a little just in case I'm off by a month or so).

I might be right, but I might also be way off. Think you’ve got a better guess than mine? Prove it in the Talkback section below. Pick the date when you think Microsoft will officially announce that Office 2007 has been released to manufacturing (that’s the date that appears on the press release, not the date of any internal e-mails, newsgroup posts, or files). The three people whose predictions come closest to the actual date will each get a signed copy of Special Edition Using Office 2007 from my personal stash. In case of ties, the earliest post wins, but only if it includes a logical, interesting, or entertaining argument. (If you just post a date, with no explanation, you risk getting bumped by someone with a little more initiative.)

Next up: A post about something other than Office.