Albany: New Microsoft ‘home office’ in the works

Microsoft has begun inviting selected testers to be part of a beta
of a new, consumer-focused Office-family product, codenamed “Albany.”

The beta invitation for Albany is cryptic, according to testers who
received the invite and asked not to be named. Albany will be aimed at
home PC users, not business customers, and will include both a software
and a services component. The individuals who’ve been invited into the
private, limited beta so far are those who’ve previously beta-tested
Office releases.

Update: I hear some folks who helped Microsoft test
Windows Live OneCare all-in-one consumer security/backup service also
got invites to the Albany beta.

Some testers with whom I’ve spoken are betting that Albany could be
the next version of Microsoft Works, Microsoft’s low-end productivity
suite. Works includes an address book, calendar, database, dictionary,
PowerPoint Viewer, basic Word and templates.

Microsoft officials said last year that they planned to conduct pilots and beta tests of Microsoft Works 9 SE, an ad-funded, free version of Microsoft Works. Officials would not discuss when and whether the company also planned to release a complementary Microsoft-hosted version of Works — even though there have been many signs pointing to Microsoft doing such a release.

One tester suggested that Albany, instead, might be a new offering
from Microsoft’s Office Authoring Services team. Office Authoring
Services is in charge of the “authoring” applications that are part of
Office — specifically, Word, OneNote (Microsoft’s note-taking app),
InfoPath (its electronic forms offering) and Publisher.

Microsoft has been looking for ways to compete with Google Docs that
would not require the company to completely Web-ify its Office
productivity suite. Office Live Workspace — the online-collaboration service
meant to complement Office, which is still currently in beta — is one
of Microsoft’s intended Google Docs competitors. I’ve argued in the
past that at least some of us users want a cheap or free version/subset of Office more than we want a Web-hosted one like Google Docs. Maybe Albany is an answer to those prayers….

The next version of Microsoft’s full-fledged Office suite, codenamed
Office 14, will include services elements, but it will still be a
PC-based, not a Web-based product, according to early Office 14 information.

I asked Microsoft for comment on Albany and was told, via a company
spokesperson, that Microsoft has “nothing to share at this time” about
it.

Anyone else out there have more clues or guesses about what Albany
is? If it is a Software+Service version of Microsoft Works, do you
think consumers will be interested in such an offering?

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