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Microsoft still isn’t ready to talk publicly about Office 12, its next major release of its information-worker family of products. But the company is briefing selected partners and customers about the forthcoming family of Office desktop and server products.

According to partner sources who requested anonymity, Microsoft has established an internal Office 12 ship calendar that pegs Office Beta 1 availability for Aug. 29, 2005. Beta 2 is slated for Dec. 5, 2005. The internal release-to-manufacturing target is May 22, 2006. And the target for “street” availability for the Office 12 System is July 17, 2006, the sources said.

Microsoft officials declined to confirm these dates.

“We will continue the trend of shipping a new version of Office every two to three years,” said Chris Capossela, the corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft’s information-worker product management group. “That kind of predictability is very important for our [Software Assurance] annuity customers.”

Microsoft released its Office System 2003 family of products in October 2003.

Microsoft officials decided earlier this year to develop Office 12 independently of Longhorn client and Longhorn Server, Microsoft’s next Windows releases, due out in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Capossela said Microsoft expects Office 12 products to run on Windows XP and Windows 2000 on the desktop, and Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 on the server. He said Microsoft is not yet sure which service packs it will require on these older releases in order to run Office 12.

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Capossela reiterated that Microsoft has yet to make final decisions on Office 12 packaging or pricing. But he said it is safe to assume that Microsoft will continue with its Office 2003 direction of broadening its whole Office System family to incorporate more desktop programs, servers and services.

(Microsoft first went public with its plan to broaden its Office desktop suite into a full “Office System” family, which would include servers and services, in addition to the group of core Office applications.)

Capossela declined to talk Office 12 desktop or server specifics. But some sources said to watch for Microsoft to launch a new charting application as part of the Office 12 desktop suite. The Office 12 charting application could make use of Avalon, the Windows presentation subsystem that Microsoft is building as part of Longhorn (and back-porting to older versions of Windows), sources said.

The goal, said sources, is to allow information workers to rely on charts to the extent they do spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Charts will become true “business-decision-maker tools” in the Office 12 world, sources said.

Partners also claimed that Microsoft already has determined its Office 12 server lineup, which it is counting on rolling out simultaneously with its next-generation desktop suite.

According to partners, who asked not to be named, Microsoft will deliver in 2006 a family of integrated server products that will include:

  • An updated version of Content Management Server (CMS)
  • A new Excel Calculation Server (ECS)
  • A new InfoPath Forms Server (IFS)
  • An updated release of Project Server
  • An updated release of SharePoint Portal Server (SPS)
  • And some kind of centralized “Office Server Core.”

    Microsoft also is on track to refresh its Live Communications Server product in 2006, even though it just released-to-manufacturing a new version of the product last month.

    The Office team is still contemplating whether to add other new Office servers to the mix in the Office 12 timeframe, partner sources said. If Microsoft does so, a Visio Server is a likely candidate.

    To read the full story on Microsoft Watch, click here.