Newest Version of Office Heads to Beta

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday officially announced Office 10, saying the software has already gone into beta testing and should ship in the middle of next year.

Microsoft has added a host of productivity and Web features to the suite of Office applications, which include Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The software also has a few features that are a preview of Office.Net, including speech recognition, which will be part of Microsoft's emerging .Net Internet platform. Office.Net will follow after Office 10 and will be geared toward a hosted environment.

Microsoft is using the Office 10 release, which is likely to be called Office 2001 when it ships, to test subscription models for the software that would allow users to rent Office applications over the Internet.

Microsoft officials said a small number of beta testers have already received the Office 10 software.

The focus of Office 10 for enterprise users is team collaboration applications and tools, features for integrating Office documents with intranet and Web-based information, and auto-recovery tools that save data during a system crash.

The suite also has a number of new administrative tools, including new installation wizards and security and maintenance tools.

With Office 10, Microsoft is trying to throw a counter punch at rival Lotus Development Corp. New to Office 10 will be Team Workspaces, a Web-based application that allows groups of users to create workspaces where documents can be saved and edited, and where calendars and tasks can be posted. The feature is similar to QuickPlace 2.0, collaboration software that Lotus will ship shortly.

Team Workspaces will more closely tie Office and Exchange 2000 into a collaborative environment.

"We are making Office a core part of collaboration with Exchange," says Tom Bailey, product manager for Office.

Workspaces will be built on the Exchange 2000 Web Storage System, a universal repository that can be accessed using HTTP. Office 10 also will have version of Team Workspaces for application service providers, a version that uses SQL Server 2000 instead of Exchange on the back end.

To further the collaboration theme, Office 10 has a tool for building workflow applications based on Visual Studio that is similar to a Lotus tool called Notes Designer.

Also for the enterprise, Microsoft is positioning Office 10 to more closely integrate with the Web by adding native XML support in Excel and Access.

"You can use those two applications as the front ends to Web-based applications," Bailey says. For example, users will be able to create browser-based corporate reporting applications using live XML-tagged data.

Office 10 will showcase a new feature called Smart Tags, which appear on screen and offer users options for accessing additional functions, such as AutoCorrect or Paste. The Smart Tags also offer access to data, especially from intranets or the Internet. For example, if a user types a company name, a Smart Tag would offer a link to information about that company.

The feature may be of interest to enterprise users that build line-of-business applications with Office. Microsoft will offer a Smart Tag customization tool that allows enterprises to create tags specific to their business applications.

Another key for enterprises are application- and document-recovery services. The services allow a document to be recovered at the point a system crashes, so no work is lost. Behind the scenes, an error-reporting feature can automatically report the crash to an enterprise help desk.

Microsoft also has added a host of usability features, including a TaskPane that appears on the right side of the screen and provides easy access to popular features such as copy, paste and formatting.

Microsoft expects to have two beta cycles for Office 10, with the second one coming later this year. The company expects to ship the software in the middle of 2001. Pricing has not been set.

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