As unusual as it sounds, that is exactly what the company is doing with Office 10, the next version of Office for Windows.
Microsoft had anticipated it would deliver beta 2 of Office 10 by mid-November. Instead, it began shipping the beta this week to a limited set of technical beta testers.
Microsoft shipped beta 1 of Office 10 this summer. Then, about a month ago, Microsoft shipped a refresh of Office 10 beta 1 to a subset of its beta-tester group. Besides bug fixes, the refresh also included some Outlook mail-client and Office Designer visual-workflow designer updates, according to Microsoft group product manager Stan Sorensen.
The commercial version of Office 10 is expected to ship in the first half of 2001. While the product will include some .Net elements, Office 10 will be only a stepping stone toward Microsoft's first full-fledged Office.Net product. The ship date for Office.Net has not yet been determined.
In recent months, Microsoft's Office product line hasn't been contributing as much in revenue as the software company had hoped. In its recent fiscal 2001 first-quarter conference call, Microsoft said Office 2000 sales were down slightly from its previous quarter. Officials said they expect desktop-application revenue to be down in the second fiscal quarter as well.
On board for beta 2 Beta 2, which begins shipping this week, will be the first beta that adds some of the local Web-storage-system bits that already are part of Microsoft's Exchange 2000 product and Tahoe search and document-management portal beta.
Also new to beta 2 are additional Outlook e-mail security functions, an updated version of Microsoft Publisher, and improved speech function. Some Office 10 beta 1 testers had noted that speech was not working in the first beta. Microsoft also decided not to include its PhotoDraw product as part of the Office 10 suite, and thus eliminated it from beta 2, according to company officials.
Office 10 is slated to work on Windows 98/98 SE, Windows Millennium Edition, NT 4.0, and Windows 2000. It will not be backward-compatible with earlier versions of Windows, company officials have said.
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