Microsoft officials acknowledged this week that Office 14, the next major version of its suite of productivity applications, has entered alpha testing. Also sometimes referred to as a "pre-beta," the release is going out to a "select" group of testers, according to a brief Microsoft statement.
"Microsoft has 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," a company spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.
Office 14 is only a codename for the next major release of Office. The current version is officially named 2007 Office System though most often that's shortened to Office 2007. It was originally codenamed Office 12. There will be no Office 13, though, apparently due to superstition surrounding the number 13.
While it's the first, fleeting, look that users will get at the next Office, the fact that it's going into alpha testing now, when Windows 7 began public beta testing on Saturday, indicates that it isn't likely to ship in tandem with Windows 7.
Office 14 is scheduled to include updates to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, along with OneNote, as well as SharePoint Server. Among the changes and additions will be more use of the "ribbon" user interface also called "Fluent" which was added in Office 2007.
Another addition will be browser-based versions of the Office applications. Dubbed Office Web, these will be scaled down editions of the main Office apps designed to run entirely within a browser.
Office Web is supposed to support Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Apple Safari browsers. They are meant to help to head off mass desertions from Microsoft's bread and butter Office brand while emulating the Web-based model that some of its competitors have embraced.
"The Office Web apps complement Office on the desktop for people who use Office every day, as well as open the door to productivity for people who do not traditionally use Office programs on their desktop," the spokesperson said.
Microsoft has disclosed little else regarding Office 14. However, Stephen Chapman, an influential Office and Windows blogger in Charlotte, NC, claims to have obtained Microsoft documents that give some features away, as well as recent schedules for Office 14.