Select testers get Office 14 alpha release

I know I said just yesterday that no testers seemed to have any Office 14 code yet. Well, surprise, surprise, some external testers say they've now got access to documentation outlining what's coming in the alpha build that the company is starting to distribute today.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is set to begin has begun providing selected testers with access to alpha versions of its Office 14 server wares.

(Yes, I know I said just yesterday that no testers seemed to have O14 code yet. Well, surprise, surprise, some external testers say they've now got access to documentation outlining what's coming in the imminent alpha build .)

Update: Here's Microsoft's statement, delivered via a spokesperson on January 13:

"Today Microsoft provided a select group of customers early access to an Alpha version of Office server technologies. However, Microsoft is not disclosing information about the timing for a Beta version at this time."

Testers are going to being provided with early versions of the next release of SharePoint Server 14 -- along with the promised Office Web apps (Webified versions of some of Microsoft's key Office apps) which are tied to SharePoint 14. They are also getting SharePoint Services 14; Search Server 14; and Project Server 14. Microsoft also is providing the alpha testers with an early version of its identity server, codenamed "Geneva," which the company is telling testers must be installed as a prerequisite for Office 14.

Testers also said they are on tap to receive a brand new alpha SKU, designated as "Office for Sales 14." (Stay tuned for my next post, which will be all about Office for Sales.)

Microsoft isn't planning to accept bug reports on the alpha versions of the Office 14 servers. Instead, company officials are telling testers to deploy the Office 14 wares on non-production Windows Server 2008 machines just to get an idea of what Microsoft is planning with its next slew of Office releases.

Microsoft also told the alpha testers to expect a "first beta"of Office 14 later this year.

Yesterday, when I was chatting with Rajesh Jha, Corporate Vice President of Office Live and Exchange, I asked him for a timetable for Office 14. He said to expect Microsoft to update customers "later this quarter" about its rollout and release plans for Office 14.

Testers to whom I've been speaking said their Microsoft reps have been telling them Office 14 could still ship by the end of this calendar year, but also might slip into early 2010.

Jha said that Microsoft also has been testing Exchange 14 -- primarily the Microsoft-hosted Exchange 14 Online release -- for the past several months via its Exchange Labs program. (The next version of Exchange Online and Exchange Server 14 are based on the same codebase, Jha confirmed, and are being developed in tandem.) Exchange Labs testers are primarily college and university users and administrators.

A few things to remember when trying to figure out whether Microsoft will be able to ship Office 14 this year (something I still believe they have an opportunity to do):

  • The team has been actively developing Office 14 for nearly two years. A private, very select group of external testers seemingly has been working with Microsoft on this for months. (Just as is the case with Windows 7.)
  • It took Microsoft  year from the time it fielded Beta 1 of Office 2007 to release the product to manufacturing. That was in the November 2005 to November 2006 period. Microsoft's software development processes have tightened up a lot since then....
  • Even if the product ends up christened Office 2010, it still technically could RTM in calendar 2009

I've asked Microsoft for more information on the pending Office 14 alpha and am waiting to hear back.  (Note: Microsoft comment was added to the beginning of this story). In the interim, I'll try to unearth more about the new features that are part of the various Office 14 point products.

Are there any next-gen Office features in which you're specifically interested? What do you hope makes it into the next Office client and server releases?

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