Office 15 Technical Preview… And Penguins

Greetings from a jet-lagged analyst! I just arrived from a five-day odyssey traveling from Antarctica (via five stopovers) home to Maui, where I will stay for eight days before heading to Europe for TechDays Belgium and a series of one-day SharePoint workshops in the following locations:

The workshops focus on SharePoint governance, manageability, and scalability. Utrecht’s event also looks at migration to SharePoint 2010. I hope to see many of you at these events in northern Europe!!

Office 15 Technical Preview

While I was traveling home from Antarctica (which I’ll tell you about later in this Update), Microsoft announced the launch of the Office 15 Technical Preview on January 30. There’s some big news in the short announcement made on the Office Team Blog.

Let’s dissect the announcement and get answers to the questions that I hear from people about the next version of Office and SharePoint.

As announced by PJ Hough, the Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Office Division, Office 15 reached the Technical Preview milestone on Monday. As word spread like wildfire, the most common questions are these: What’s Office 15? When will it be released? How do I get my hands on it? and, of course, What’s new?

WHAT is Office 15?

“Office 15” is the code name for the next versions of Microsoft Office products and services, just as “Office 14” was the code name for what became Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, and Visio 2010. Of course, the name of the product will likely change and I can’t imagine Microsoft straying from the decade-old trend of branding the product with the year—for example “Office 2012” or “Office 2013.” But, for now, it’s “Office 15” and you’ll hear its components referred to with the 15 moniker for coming weeks and months: SharePoint 15, Outlook 15, Visio 15.

‘Softies regularly refer to this new generation as “Wave 15.” And “wave” might be an understatement: tsunami is more like it. Microsoft’s ambitions are huge, as reported by Hough:

"With Office 15, for the first time ever, we will simultaneously update our cloud services, servers, and mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio."

Read this statement again folks: Microsoft is publicly saying it will update cloud services (Office 365), servers (SharePoint, Exchange and Lync), mobile and PC clients simultaneously. Unified communications (Lync/Exchange), Office apps, and collaboration, all at once. Holy upgrade, Batman! That’s huge!

There had been buzz about Microsoft releasing one side or the other (on-premises versus in the cloud) “first.” You might remember that Office 365 launched a full year after the on-prem version of SharePoint.

Not so this time around. Looks like Microsoft is delivering on its promise to be “all in” with the cloud this time around.

WHEN Will Office 15 Release?

The Technical Preview milestone means that select customers can access the products now, or very soon. These customers typically have a tight support relationship with Microsoft during the preview.

While most customers will work with the product in non-production environments, my experience has been that some push the envelope and the limits of “bleeding edge.” Either way, when something goes wrong, Microsoft works to understand the problem, to support the customer, and to gain in-the-field experience with customer usage and product performance, to improve the product before releasing it as a public beta.

The Office 14 technical preview launched in July of 2009 and the public beta was announced at the SharePoint Conference and made available in November of 2009. That’s approximately four months of technical preview.

If I were a marketing wiz at Microsoft, I’d look at the calendar and spot TechEd North America and Europe in June—four months away—as a great place to pull back the curtain on such a significant overhaul of Microsoft’s lineup of non-OS products.

So I, personally, was a bit surprised by Hough’s word choice of “later this summer.” Perhaps he’s hedging his bets in a public statement. I’m a fan, if that’s the case. This upgrade is so big, I certainly want it to be great more than I want it to be fast.

The public beta of Windows 8 starts soon. While I was on the road, I looked away from the news, but I believe there was talk of it being called a “Consumer Preview” rather than a “Beta.”

Again, I’m a fan, because the term “beta” has become meaningless, with most software and services being updated regularly, and products from significant companies (Google) remaining in Beta forever. So maybe the Office 15 Beta will get a cool name like “Enterprise Preview” … we’ll see.

The beta of SharePoint 14 ran from November 2009 to February 2010. There was then a release candidate, and the product was finalized and released to manufacture (RTM) in April 2010, with general availability in June of 2010.

Doing the math, and looking at the calendar, I can certainly make educated guesses. I’d expect Microsoft to have ambitious targets, but to maintain its traditional public stance of “it’s ready when it’s ready.” Mary Jo Foley reports  that her contacts peg the release by the end of the calendar year.

In any event, it’s clearly going to be in Microsoft’s next fiscal year, which runs July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.

It’s also obvious that, regardless of the exact product release date, the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas will be well enough into the product release cycle to be chock-a-block with Wave 15 information.

HOW Can I Get My Hands On It?

Right now, you cannot, unless you or your company are members of the Technical Preview, which according to Hough is already full. Keep in mind that Technical Preview used to be called Beta 1.

The product is not meant to be production ready at this stage, and Microsoft’s goal with the preview is to incorporate customer feedback into the product.

What’s NEW?

Microsoft is, not surprisingly, not commenting. Anyone who is a member of the Technical Preview is, as Hough points out, under non-disclosure. So the answer is: wait and see.

Hough’s post included a thankfully short chunk of standard language: “Office 15 will help people work, collaborate, and communicate smarter and faster than ever before.”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize the trends in the market, some of which Hough indicates in his post, including mobile devices, and the blurring of public and private cloud services and on-premise servers and clients.

Social and search are clearly hot, and Microsoft has demonstrated its commitment to investing in these spaces over the years.

Microsoft always works to improve scalability and manageability, and the features of SQL Server 2012 and Windows 8 Server certainly point to significant improvements in those areas, as well as redundancy and recoverability.

You’ve got to assume these features will feed up the “stack” into SharePoint’s capabilities.

There are also rough spots and gaps in functionality in the current versions of the product, and Microsoft has proven over the years that it does recognize many of those and fills them as the products evolve.

So there’s a lot of incredible opportunity for Microsoft to hit it out of the park with Office 15. My hope is that, for the enterprise, the impact of Office 15 could be as significant and valuable as what we’re seeing with the potential of Windows 8 in the client and consumer space.

It’s going to be a very interesting ride, and I look forward to reporting developments to you as Microsoft releases information.

If you want to follow the journey towards Office 15, I also recommend you follow Mary Jo Foley, who has great information including some articles about rumored new applications and functionality; and of course our own superman, Paul Thurrott.


Oh yes, and that trip to Antarctica! It was extraordinary, and a phenomenal opportunity to take SharePoint to every corner of the planet.

I will work to get a detailed report online over the coming days, but I highly encourage you to enjoy Joel Oleson’s blog entry about our days in Antarctica, and the photos he has posted there.

If you want to see some really great pictures of Antarctica, including penguins and elephant seals and Joel Oleson, Penguin Whisperer, check out my Facebook photo album. The album actually has more photos than are shown by default, so be sure to click the “Show More” link at the bottom of the album! Enjoy!

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