Microsoft plans to deliver the Office 15 beta to developers and corporate users on July 16, but the finished version will be available only on Windows 8 and Windows mobile devices at first -- not on Apple's iPad or Android devices.
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Initially, Microsoft planned to introduce versions of Office 15 for all three platforms. But according to sources familiar with the company's strategy, Microsoft will now ship the long-awaited application suite sometime in October for Windows devices, most notably the upcoming versions of Windows Phone, and hold off on selling Office for iOS and Android devices until next spring.
The reason is to give a competitive advantage to Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows RT tablets for the holiday sales season, sources said.
"They want to tie everything to Windows 8 to get it off to a rolling start," said one source. "They know all these people with iPads out there want Office. But why would anyone buy a Windows device if they could buy an iPad with Office on it for Christmas? They want to give themselves some breathing room."
But delaying the delivery of Office 15 for the wildly successful iPad could actually hurt Microsoft's sales over the long term, said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent firm in Kirkland, Wash.
"Though any discussion of it is supposition at this point, I believe if such a chess game were being played, it would be a mistake," Miller said. "The longer Microsoft lets customers have no official Office for the iPad, the greater the potential becomes for professionals who are using the iPad to decide they actually may not need it."
Microsoft has focused on delivering versions of Office for the iPad and Android devices for almost two years, with the anticipation of releasing them this fall. Those applications are nearly ready to go and could easily make a fall deadline, according to sources.
"The mobile versions of those apps I have played with look like they are about ready for the online stores," one source said. "But now I don't expect them there until March or April. Microsoft is going to wait and see how Windows  performs."
Office 15 for all Windows devices, cloud
Although Office 15 will be available only on Windows devices, sources said Microsoft has done a good job in allowing data to move seamlessly from the cloud to all of these devices, as well as sharing information among those devices.
"If you live inside the Microsoft ecosystem, [Office 15] should be a good experience across all [Windows] devices," according to one source. "Your documents should roam with you and should have a ton of cloud storage."
As previously reported, Microsoft still intends to offer multiple versions of Office 15, including versions aimed at home users, enterprises and medium-sized IT shops. All editions will be downloadable from the cloud, and the downloadable versions will carry the Office 365 brand name. They will be available through two subscription models, one aimed at consumers and one for small- and medium-sized businesses.
To entice consumers, Microsoft will bundle Skype with the product and offer users a limited number of free minutes in the Home Office 15 version. Microsoft may do the same for business versions but will not release it this year.
Office 15 feature enhancements
The new versions will all take greater advantage of Windows SkyDrive and other cloud storage technologies and come with a Windows Live account, according to sources. The intention is to make it easier for users to switch between a local copy of Office at work or home and Office 365 in the cloud. Instead of having to email documents as attachments, users will be able to access them through SkyDrive, mimicking the functionality of Google Docs.
Microsoft will also address user complaints about the ribbon that has become an integral part of the Office graphical interface. Office 15 will hide the ribbon by default, and users will have the option to make it appear.
The company also added a social networking feed that will flow directly into Outlook and work with its email, contacts and calendaring capabilities. The feed will support Facebook and LinkedIn, but not Google Plus. Users reportedly can customize their feeds to work with a specific social network and to receive information from just friends, family or business colleagues.
Microsoft officials declined to comment.