Goodbye, Clippy. Hello, smart tags. With much fanfare, including rock music and flashing lights, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates last week officially launched the latest version of his company's ubiquitous Office software, now known as Office XP.
While Microsoft didn't highlight any new features beyond what it promoted in preview versions of the product, Gates claimed that features like Office XP's smart tags could save millions of work hours because, for example, they can integrate Office XP documents with back-end systems from the likes of SAP AG, PeopleSoft Inc. and J.D. Edwards & Co.
"By making Office just 10 percent better, we can save hundreds of millions of man-hours," he said.
Gates also touted XML as an integral part of Office XP. "We're designing all our software products from the ground up around XML," he noted.
A Hard Sell?
Selling those improvements won't be easy, according to analysts. "Most enterprises are having problems finding enough benefits to make moving from Office 2000 to Office XP compelling," said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. However, for those not yet using Office 2000, a jump to XP is advised.
"About 70 percent of enterprises that I've spoken to that are planning migration to Windows 2000 are also going to upgrade Office," Silver said. "We're suggesting that organizations skip versions."
Users should still take precautions by testing the software to make sure it's stable in a given environment before deploying, he warned.
About 245 million people worldwide use Office products, according to David Bennie, group manager for Office/Exchange and product marketing at Microsoft.
Another way the company is pushing users to XP is by changing its licensing practices. Beginning Oct. 1, licenses will become more expensive for many users. Earlier this month, Microsoft acknowledged that the change would primarily affect users who don't upgrade to new releases as often as other companies do.
Silver said the shift may push sales of the new Office software, especially at a time when IT budgets are tightening.
Office XP contains the new version of Outlook, Microsoft's e-mail software, which has added smart tags. The new release also reportedly has better version control for Word documents. Revisions are now color-coded and automatically placed in the margins when an author merges different versions into a main document.
Office XP is tightly integrated with the SharePoint Portal system, a knowledge management tool and collaboration application. Word and Outlook have improved integration, and Office now features the ability to send a document via e-mail directly from Word by clicking on a person's name. If the name is in the Active Directory or the user's Outlook address book, Word will recognize it.
And, in a glib farewell, Gates gave Clippy the paper clip, the much-maligned animated Office Assistant character, his severance package: an Office XP T-shirt. But Clippy afficionados need not fear. Though he has been publicly "fired," Clippy isn't completely gone; he's just turned off by default.