Microsoft is to further delay the launch of Office 2007 and will no longer develop WinFS, a technology designed to improve filing and searching documents on Windows Vista and Longhorn.
A company spokesman said the Office delay followed internal testing and the beta 2 feedback around product performance.
The development schedule has been revised, with planned deployment pushed back from the end of 2006 to early 2007. "Feedback on quality and performance will ultimately determine the exact dates," said the spokesman.
Roy Illsley, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said this could hit some organisations that took out Software Assurance licensing agreements towards the end of 2003 expecting to get the right to deploy an updated version of Office during the three-year licence.
Ollie Ross, head of research at the Corporate IT Forum, said it would particularly hit users planning to use Office 2007's business intelligence tools. "At a time when data management is a priority for both business and IT, this hesitancy is particularly disappointing from the development perspective," she said.
Darren Strange, senior product manager at Microsoft, said, "There will be some customers affected and with our partners we will be working directly with them."
The decision not to develop WinFS as part of Longhorn, the next-generation Microsoft operating system, means that users will need to buy additional software to get the promised functionality.
Microsoft said, "We are changing the delivery strategy for WinFS technologies and it will not ship as a standalone feature. However, the vision for integrated storage is alive and well. Microsoft will instead include the WinFS support for unstructured data and auto-admin work and deliver features in the next release of MS SQL Server, codenamed Katmai, as part of its Data Platform Vision strategy."
WinFS was one of the three major components of the next Windows release, and focused on enterprise data access. Forrester Research vice-president Mike Gilpin said, "We were hoping WinFS would be delivered after Vista's launch, as it would enable applications to share content without being rewritten."
The technology could have been applied in applications such as a call centre at an insurance firm, where staff could have used a single application to access customer records along with faxes of claims forms and digital photos backing claims.
Though such integration is possible with middleware, Gilpin said data integration without WinFS would be complex, costly and need constant maintenance when data formats in applications change.