64-Bit Office 12 In The Works

Even as the company's top dogs last week talked up the newly shipping 64-bit Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, insiders confirmed plans for a 64-bit version of Office 12, the successor to Office 2003.

The current plan is for a 64-bit Office 12 for the AMD64 platform to ship "sometime after" the 32-bit Office 12. No Itanium version is planned, but that processor is primarily server-oriented, insiders said.

Erik Ryan, product manager of Microsoft Office SharePoint, said the company is planning 64-bit versions of Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server in the "Office 12 wave." In the past, Microsoft execs have said to expect Office 12 within 36 months of Office 2003, which would put it in 2006.

Ryan did not comment on the desktop-oriented Office products but said that as 64-bit computing gets pervasive, the team will explore "how we can take advantage of the promise of this platform in other servers, applications and services."

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Brian Marr, senior product manager for Windows XP Professional X64 edition, said there is more of a need to transition applications that are memory- or processor-bound to 64-bit than others, which can run well as 32-bit versions on a 64-bit operating system.

"Office is an example of an application that is not one of those," Marr said. "People don't typically have a 2-Gbyte PowerPoint application or 100,000 e-mails opened at the same time. [Office] is perfectly well-suited to run at 32-bit still at great performance. At some point, I'm sure they'll cut over, but there's nothing driving it to need to be 64-bit. At this point, there's no product road map for moving [Office] to 64-bit."

However, as Microsoft points out, the Office brand is now more than desktop apps. It now comprises servers such as SharePoint Portal Server and Content Management Server as well as services. And plans call for a new InfoPath server as well as a realtime analytics server.

But some say 64-bits will help even spreadsheet jockeys. "Excel, which runs the known universe, maxes out at 32 bits," said one solution provider in the Midwest. "When you run a lot of pivot tables and do a lot of manipulation, 64-bit support is critical."

The issue is address space, not compute space, he said. New 64-bit support on both client and server could better support the handling and manipulation of rich, multimedia data types as well, he added.

Some Microsoft sources say the company continues to look at an Excel Server as well, but said it has not been determined if it will actually surface as a SKU in and of itself.

"They may well bundle it with SharePoint," said one source familiar with the plans.

ELIZABETH MONTALBANO contributed to this story.