Behind Microsoft's 'experience' strategy

Looking to Jimi Hendrix and new services to give users a reason to upgrade

As reported, Microsoft attaches 'XP' to Office and Windows products, short for extended user experiences

Microsoft on Monday confirmed that it is moving to a new naming scheme for its next-generation Windows and Office products.

As previously reported, Microsoft is branding Office 10 for Windows as Office XP and its Windows 2000 successor, currently code-named Whistler, as Windows XP. XP, in both cases, stands for "experience", Microsoft said.

"The XP name is short for 'experience,' symbolising the rich and extended user experiences Windows and Office can offer by embracing Web services that span a broad range of devices," according to a press release issued by Microsoft Monday morning.

Both Office XP and Windows XP are due to ship this year, with Office XP expected by mid-year. The desktop Personal and Professional versions of XP are slated to ship before year-end, with various server versions to follow by several months. Beta 2 of Windows XP is expected to go to testers later this month.

Microsoft is holding a preview of its Windows XP Beta 2 code for press and analysts on 13 February at the Experience Music Project museum, leading industry sources to wonder if the Jimi Hendrix song "Are you experienced?" will become the anthem for Office, just as the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" became the theme song for Windows 95.

While Microsoft is emphasising the Web services orientation of Windows XP and Office XP, neither product is expected to include much of the underlying .Net technologies that Microsoft is developing to allow for software to be delivered as a Web service.

Microsoft officials have said on several occasions that customers should not expect to see .Net versions of Windows or Office for one or more years.

Microsoft's .Net is its software-as-a-service initiative. By making its various operating system, application and developer tool products able to share data via protocols, such as the Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) messaging protocols, Microsoft is aiming to make software accessible over the Internet.

The first truly .Net version of Windows is slated to be the release code-named Blackcomb, the successor to Windows XP. Blackcomb is expected to ship in 2002 or possibly later.

The first fully .Net version of Office, to which Microsoft has referred as Office .Net, isn't expected to ship in another year or two.

While Microsoft has said it will allow customers to use Office XP as a hosted product, a separate team within the company is working on a fully hosted Microsoft Office competitor, code-named Netdocs. Netdocs is currently in internal alpha testing, sources said. It is not known when Microsoft will release a commercial version of Netdocs.

Another version Industry watchers and Microsoft customers had other ideas as to why Microsoft is moving now to rename its flagship products.

One source close to the company speculated that -- at least on the Office side -- Microsoft needs a way to convince customers to upgrade to its next-generation product. As sales of Office 2000, which many have criticised as being bloated and lacking compelling new features, have lagged behind company projections, Microsoft may want to distance itself from its current Office line.

Ever since the company moved to a product-naming convention based on dates, such as Windows 95, Windows 2000 and Office 2000, the company has battled product-naming confusion.

For example, when Microsoft was working on naming its newest consumer Windows release last year, it ended up going with Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), because it had already used the Windows 2000 designation for its business-oriented family of products, which also debuted last year.

On the Office side, Microsoft has been wrestling with what to call Office 10, as it is using the Office 2001 name for the Mac version of its Office suite.

Sources said that Microsoft also did not want to call Office 10 "Office.Net," since the Office 10 suite will be only loosely tied to the company's .Net strategy. Microsoft is, however, using the .Net naming convention with its forthcoming version of its Visual Studio tool suite, which the company has said it will call "Visual Studio.Net."

Next week, Microsoft will unveil its Windows XP operating system, previously code-named Whistler. The XP stands for 'experience,' a new and slick-sounding naming convention that'll supplant 95, 98, and 2000. Microsoft is promising a new experience for you and me. But David Coursey thinks MS is more interested in reliving an old experience of its own -- making money. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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