Microsoft enhances three productivity apps

Microsoft will release new tools Wednesday that are intended to help businesses get more bang for their buck with three of its productivity applications: FrontPage 2002, Project Standard 2002 and Visio 2002.

Microsoft's Right Tools Toolkits are aimed at customers in five specific fields -- human resources, accounting and finance, sales and marketing, government, and projects and process management -- and are intended to help them get more use out of their software, the company said.

Each toolkit includes templates that make it easier to create Web pages, charts and other documents related to the particular field, as well as "cheat sheets" that show how to perform common tasks more quickly, said Melanie Cosklo, lead product manager for Microsoft's productivity applications.

For people working in human resources, for example, the toolkit for FrontPage includes templates for building Web sites that provide information about benefits, recruiting or compensation. The toolkit for Project includes templates for managing a recruitment campaign and other relevant tasks, Cosklo said.

Microsoft will offer five kits in all, each of which includes tools, templates and other resources. Many customers may already own licenses to these applications through volume licensing agreements but may not know it or may not be aware of what the applications can do, she said.

"What we're trying to do is get people to enjoy the value of these products more," she said.

"It's a good idea because it allows them to target verticals with what is actually quite a low price point," said Rob Enderle, a research fellow with Giga Information Group Inc. It's also good for customers, he said, because "that particular vertical can get up and running without having to do expensive custom engagements."

The toolkits also give Microsoft a way to provide new features that are relevant to particular lines of business without having to cram more features into the standard versions of its applications, Cosklo said.

"The products are so rich as they exist already that to try to build more into the products would be very difficult from this standpoint. We don't want to make them any more complex, but where we can reach out is by doing more with this type of personalization," she said.

Microsoft is likely to extend the model to other Microsoft productivity software in the future, Cosklo said.

"I'd expect to see some of the same things for Office," she said.

The toolkits are based on the 2002 versions of the applications, but for the most part they are "version agnostic," meaning that most templates can be used by customers with older versions of the software, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

New and existing customers can register for the Microsoft Right Tools Toolkit free of charge at http://www.msrighttools.com/. New customers will receive a 90-day evaluation license for each of the three applications.

Visio has approximately 7 million users, Project has about 6 million and FrontPage has about 5 million, a spokeswoman for the company said.

Microsoft also announced a rebate program Wednesday for the three applications. Customers who don't already own the applications may be eligible for a $50 rebate on Microsoft Project Standard 2002, a $50 rebate on Visio 2002 and a $25 rebate on FrontPage 2002 when they buy them at Amazon.com, Microsoft said.

The Right Tools Toolkits and the rebates will be available through June 30, Microsoft said.

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