Microsoft to deliver Office 2013 SP1 in early '14

The late February update will sync 'perpetual license' version with Office 365 changes, new features

Microsoft today said it will ship the first service pack for Office 2013 sometime early next year.

Office 2013 Service Pack 1 (SP1) will launch alongside similar service packs for SharePoint and Exchange, the two most important server-side software products that tie in to the Office environment, said Chris Schneider, a marketing manager on the Office team, in a brief Wednesday blog.

"Right. On. Time," said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, in a tweet today.

Miller was referring to the cadence of the last two Office SP1 updates: Microsoft delivered both Office 2010 SP1 and Office 2007 SP1 about 13 months after their respective original editions' debut.

Microsoft started selling Office 2013 at the end of January 2013. Assuming the Redmond, Wash. company sticks to the same 13-month timetable, it would release SP1 near the end of February 2014.

Traditionally, service packs -- whether for Windows, Office or any other product in the Microsoft portfolio -- have been little more than collections of past security patches and other non-security bug fixes.

But that's changed: Microsoft has done away with service packs for Windows, at least, and instead has moved to a faster development and release tempo. That's best exemplified by October's Windows 8.1, a major revision of the original Windows 8 that included numerous new features, revamped apps, user interface (UI) changes, and some backpedaling from design decisions that many customers couldn't swallow.

While Microsoft seems determined to retain service packs for Office, Miller expects that they will be quite different from past examples. "It will be 'Blue'-like," Miller said today in an interview, referring to the umbrella label some have stuck to Microsoft's faster release rhythm. "It will be the same sort of thing [as Windows 8.1], a bit of new features, a bit of updates."

Microsoft has made it clear that for Office, and server software such as Exchange and SharePoint, changes and new features are offered first to subscribers of Office 365 and the cloud-based à la carte services like Exchange Online. On-premises software, like Office 2013 when sold as a "perpetual" license -- paid for once, then used as long as the user wants -- presumably receive the same updates and features, although at a later date.

"You'll have to wait," said Miller of Office service packs compared to Office 365. "But [service packs] will be more frequent and more regular than in the past."

Microsoft has issued Office service packs for the last two editions -- Office 2007 and Office 2010 -- about every 17 months.

Still, Microsoft's practice of issuing service packs for some titles, but ditching them for others, is confusing, Miller acknowledged. "Microsoft needs to clarify things," he said, noting that Directions has fielded questions from corporate clients perplexed about which products receive service packs and which do not.

It's likely that Microsoft will hew to past practice and give customers at least a 30-day warning before shipping Office 2013 SP1. It's done that to give companies time to prepare for the update, or put in place mechanisms to block the update until they can test it on a subset of their systems.

Microsoft will be busy in 2014 launching additional updates for Office, including touch-enabled versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and probably also a new edition for Apple's OS X.

The latter was last refreshed in October 2010; Microsoft typically takes a year to craft a new edition of Office for the Mac after shipping a new one for Windows.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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