Microsoft gives NZ business leaders Office XP for free

As Microsoft Office XP goes on sale in New Zealand [on May 31] hours before anywhere else in the world, the company is marking the occasion by handing out copies of the business application suite to 500 of the country's chief executives and IT bosses.

The move seems calculated to ensure that Office XP finds its way quickly into business hands, since Microsoft doesn't actually have great expectations of its initial corporate appeal.

Microsoft New Zealand Office marketing manager Bridget Reeves says she doesn't think boxes of Office XP will "run out the door because it's a significant purchase for most people."

"Visibly it has a lot more sizzle for the end user with features such as smart tags, and task panes," Reeves says, adding that consumer sales are likely to be where the early sales action is.

The new features are designed to make Office functions more accessible and easier to use. It also has speech recognition tools which let users dictate text and edit documents using speech.

Reeves is guessing right about the product's appeal, according to large local users spoken to by Computerworld New Zealand.

Auckland-based public broadcaster Television New Zealand (TVNZ) says it's still to make the switch from Office 97 to Office 2000, let alone to Office XP. Technology head Neil Andrew says TVNZ is in the middle of upgrading to Windows 2000 and as part of that roll-out will eventually move to Office 2000.

Auckland Casino operator Sky City is also yet to upgrade from Office 97 and is considering Office 2000 rather than XP, says information services manager Damian Swaffield.

Progressive Enterprises, which operates a nationwide supermarket chain, is not even close to upgrading to Office XP, says IT operations and infrastructure manager Shelley Heffernan. While the company has standardised on Office, it's "trying to get its strategic direction straight" before committing to upgrades. Part of that process is the undertaking of a thin-client pilot project, Heffernan says.

Winemaker Montana Wines is showing greater interest, however. IT manager Elena Wong says she is evaluating XP as a possible replacement for Lotus SmartSuite.

Office XP has been available to New Zealand business software licence holders since May 1 but Reeves says it's too early to say what the uptake is like.

Along with Australia and Brazil, New Zealand is the only country where end-users can get a 12-month subscription for the product.

Reeves says Microsoft is testing the subscription model in Australia and New Zealand because it's a (geographically) self-contained English-speaking region with a sophisticated IT market which can be easily analysed.

A New Zealand development partner of Microsoft, Keylogix, took part in XP launch events in the U.S. KeyLogix co-founder Dot Johnstone says the company's ActiveDocs product lets users tailor their Office XP smart tags without the aid of a programmer.

Microsoft says it is including ActiveDocs marketing material in a million boxes of Office XP being distributed throughout the U.S.