Five years ago: Office 97 will include Bob-like help

Microsoft is putting a help system that resembles its reviled Bob 'human user interface' into the next full release of its Office application suite, Office 97

Called Office Assistant, the new help facility takes the form of cartoon characters who suggest smarter working tips after the software has recorded user actions indicative of problems, such as frequent visits to help files. However, unlike the case with Bob, characters will be small and run in a window. The system can also be disabled altogether.

The new help features will supplement the orthodox help system but replace the Answer Wizard in today's Office. Office Assistant will work across Office applications and uses IntelliSense natural-language and Tip Wizard technology, according to the report.

Microsoft is also expected to add a new workgroup product to the suite, called Team Manager. The tool integrates with Project and the already announced Outlook mail and scheduling package to ease exchange of information between project colleagues.

As expected, the standard edition of Office will include Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. As now, there will also be a separately available premium-priced Professional Edition that includes Access, and a developer's edition. Microsoft is also expected to release a special version for small businesses that will include Word, Excel, Publisher, Outlook and, in the US at least, the Automap Streets A-Z street planner.

Office 97 is expected to ship in the UK by December.

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