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Office 16: Public beta could start soon, with Android and touch versions to follow

Office 16: Public beta could start soon, with Android and touch versions to follow

The anticipated launch into new platforms may represent the biggest changes for Office

The next version of Microsoft Office is reportedly on track for a spring 2015 launch, but Microsoft may offer a public beta much sooner.

According to the well-connected Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft may launch a public test version of its desktop productivity software "any time now." The company may also launch an Android tablet version of Office within a couple of months, and launch a touch-optimized Windows Store version in the spring.

Public tests are nothing new for Microsoft. The company is currently offering a "Technical Preview" of Windows 10, and in the past it's offered public previews of upcoming Office versions. Office 16 is reportedly in private testing right now.

As for what Office 16 will include, previous reports have hinted at the "Tell Me" assistant that debuted in Office Web Apps earlier this year, letting users quickly search for options and settings. The new version may also include an optional dark-shaded interface mode in Word, the ability to download fewer days of mail in Outlook, and several other tweaks. Overall, it looks like an incremental upgrade, though it's possible Microsoft is keeping some bigger improvements secret for now.

The story behind the story: The rumored release schedule is par for the course for Microsoft, which has put out new Office versions on roughly a two-and-a-half year cycle since 2007. But as Microsoft sings the gospel of rapid release cycles across the company one might wonder if this is going to change. Foley's story is largely about how Microsoft has unified all its Office versions across a massive base of shared code, so perhaps the pieces are in place for faster changes down the road.

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