Microsoft Office: Worth the (longer?) wait?

Earlier today, we reported that the product which Microsoft likes to call the 2007 Microsoft Office system (is there any chance that they'll rename their next OS Vista Windows?) has apparently been delayed again.

I say "apparently" because the interesting thing about Microsoft's announcement (which came in an e-mail to journalists) is that it speaks of a revision to the timetable without ever saying whether that revision will result in the suite arriving later, earlier, or what.

Technically, all the timetable has gotten is vaguer. Back in March, Microsoft said it had "confirmed" that the suite would reach volume-licensing customers in October and hit retail in January, 2007, at the same time as Windows Vista.

Consider that timetable unconfirmed: The new schedule says Office will get to its first customers by the end of this year, and be broadly available in early 2007. You gotta think that means that the October and January dates have slip-slided away, even if Microsoft is unwilling to speak in plain English about what's happened.

The obvious follow-up question is, does this have any impact on Vista's ship date? Microsoft says that product is still on schedule, but I don't think anyone would be startled if it got pushed back, too. (For what it's worth--not necessarily all that much--the beta 2 of Office 2007 released last month feels far more fully-baked than the Vista beta 2 that came out at the same time.)

Incidentally, I've been using the Office 2007 beta 2 to do a sizable percentage of my work for the past few weeks...and though it's not perfect, I think there's a lot to admire in it. Microsoft's record with user-interface innovations is spotty (actually, I'm being kind: It's just plain bad), but in this case, they've come up with something that's both radically different and meaningfully better.

If you spend much time trying to make documents look their best, I think you'll find an especially large number of things in the upgrade you'll like--after spending time in the new PowerPoint, I wouldn't want to go back to the old one. I'll be glad when it's a shipping product, but the rational reaction to news of delays, of course, is to encourage Microsoft to take the time it needs to release a stable, secure, and usable product.

Delay or not, it's easy to check out the new suite. If you've got a broadband connection and some patience, download the whole thing in beta form. (Like I say, I've found it to be in pretty good shape and have been using it for real work.) If not, take a look at the browser-based demo. Both are available at the Office 2007 site.

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Harry McCracken

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