Jan. 31, 2012 at 2:30 PM ET
The next version of Microsoft Office is being previewed and tested by some customers selected by the company. Later this summer, a beta version of what's being called (for now) Office 15 is expected to be available to the public.
"At this early point in our development cycle, I'm not able to share too much about Office 15, but I can tell you Office 15 is the most ambitious undertaking yet for the Office Division," said PJ Hough of the Microsoft Office Division on a company blog. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
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. Quite simply, Office 15 will help people work, collaborate, and communicate smarter and faster than ever before."
Office 15 will likely work with older versions of Windows, the current Windows 7 OS and coming Windows 8, says tech writer Dwight Silverman, "but most Microsoft observers believe we’ll see a whole new Office interface for use with Win8′s Metro UI."
That user interface will be designed with touchscreens in mind, and relies on the tiled look and approach of Windows Phones, known as "Metro."
While there's plenty of time to get ready for 15, Tony Bradley of PCWorld says users should consider the testing phase a "wake up call that it is time to seriously consider getting off of Office 2003 or Office 2007, and at least catch up to Office 2010 to make sure you can continue to work smoothly with customers and partners that do make the switch to Office 15."
Still, with many users fiercely hanging onto Windows XP, Office 15 may take some hard selling to succeed.