Microsoft has begun a very limited test of the server-based parts of its Microsoft Office "14" product wave, kicking off what's expected to be about a year of pre-release milestones. What's not being tested, right now at least, is the best-selling Office productivity suite. Instead, Microsoft is focusing first on the Office server products and the previously announced Office Web Applications.

"Microsoft provided a select group of customers early access to an alpha version of Office server technologies," the company noted in a written statement. "However, Microsoft is not disclosing information about the timing for a beta version at this time."

Put simply, this week's revelation raises more questions than it answers. According to ZD blogger Mary Jo Foley, testers are getting alpha versions of SharePoint Server 14, SharePoint Services 14, Search Server 14, Project Server 14, and the Office Web Applications that Microsoft previewed last fall. The software giant had previously stated that it would provide a public beta of the Office Web Applications before the end of 2008, but that beta has been delayed indefinitely.

So where's the Office 14 productivity suite? And with Windows 7 set to appear in final form as early as mid-2009, can Microsoft possibly deliver the next Office quickly enough so that it can arrive at the same time? That doesn't appear to be the plan: According to internal documentation I've reviewed, Microsoft is planning on shipping Office 14 no earlier than late 2009 or early 2010. Publicly, Microsoft says that it will detail its release plans "later this quarter."

Few details about Office 14 are known at this time. Microsoft will add a new version of the ribbon user interface from Office 2007 (previously codenamed Office 12) to more applications, including OneNote. It will introduce a new Office product version called Office for Sales. And ... that's about it.

I'll provide more info about Office 14 as it becomes available.