The Office 11 beta, a major makeover for the flagship Office XP suite, targets developers looking to integrate Office into other business applications and create software like collaborative environments.
The current incarnation of Microsoft's software, Office XP, is already fitted with features like customizable smart tags and XML support and the Office 11 upgrade incorporates Microsoft's .NET Web services initiative that would let users use applications like Excel, Word and Outlook in new ways.
Office 11 takes advantage of XML through Smart Documents, which provide information workers with content specific to the document or spreadsheet in which they are working.
For example, a person working on an expense report may need information from a variety of sources, such as an online credit card or cell phone bill or an organization's expense reporting policy. Smart Documents can make all this information available without requiring people to leave their Office applications.
The Redmond, Wash. firm also said Office 11 improves collaboration through tighter integration with Microsoft SharePointTeam Services, a tool that enables groups to collaborate, share documents and communicate with one another via the Web.
For example, the new Document Workspace lets information workers edit a document simultaneously, and allows them to receive real-time notices of new changes and be connected to the other participants via Windows Messenger. The Document Workspace connects to a SharePoint Team Services Web site, where people have access to shared task lists, calendars, discussion strings and new Meetings Workspaces.
Also, the new Outlook includes an improved mobile e-mail experience that is more consistent across for current networks and data connections. Sporting a new cached e-mail system and intelligent connection settings, Outlook allows mobile workers to get to their e-mail more quickly.
Michael Silver, Vice President and Research Director of Gartner Hardware and Operating Systems, discussed the strategic aspects of the play with internetnews.com.
"Microsoft was pretty successful in getting enterprises to pay for Office 11 already through their last licensing changes," Silver said. "What Microsoft needs to do is to make Office less of a commodity. If it's a commodity, Sun can gain some market share. If they get enterprises to embed it into business process, that gets much harder.
Silver said there is a great potential to make Outlook better and make users more productive and "that's certainly something they're working on."
Office, which owns more than 90 percent of the office productivity applications market, puts about $10 billion in annual sales in Microsoft's coffers. But Office sales were more or less flat for the fiscal year that ended June 30, which could portend an opportunity for competitors in the space with cheaper alternatives, including Corel's WordPerfect and Sun Microsystems' StarOffice suite.
Office 11 is scheduled to be available in mid-2003.
In related news, Microsoft Tuesday rolled out its Windows XP Embedded operating system with Service Pack 1 (SP1) at the Microsoft Windows Embedded Developer Conference in Las Vegas. Windows XP Embedded with SP1 features additional foreign-language support and the Microsoft .NET Framework, in addition to a number of features endemci to embedded systems, such as remote boot and diskless operation.
Windows XP Embedded with SP1 is based on the same binaries as Windows XP SP1, giving embedded developers access to technologies, features and applications available on the client. Fujitsu Ltd., NEC Infrontia Corp., Neoware Systems Inc., Toshiba TEC Corp., Wincor Nixdorf and Wyse Technology Inc. have begun developing devices based on Windows XP Embedded with SP1.