Microsoft ships first beta of Office upgrade

Microsoft Corp. has shipped the first beta version of its next Office applications suite, with officials calling the upgrade the most significant and innovative release of Office ever.

Microsoft Corp. has shipped the first beta version of its next Office applications suite, with officials calling the upgrade the most significant and innovative release of Office ever.

The first beta version was released to select customers for testing earlier this month. Product manager Lisa Gurry declined to say when a widespread beta would be available.

The upgrade—currently known as Office 10 until the company finalizes a new name—is expected to be commercially available by the end of the first quarter of 2001, Gurry confirmed.

Office 10 is a stepping stone to what Microsoft is calling Office.Net, offering the first level of integrated Internet services functionality. The complete Office.Net platform is due in 2002.

“The major improvements [in Office 10] were all designed around empowering users and simplifying the way in which they work,” said Gurry. “Some of the features in previous versions were not as accessible as they could have been. We have made a concerted effort to simplify this process.” One key enhancement of the new Office suite are task panes that make it easier for users to identify, find and experiment with the different features of the various applications.

The upgrade also expands the existing document-recovery mechanisms for work lost following a system, file or application error. Office documents will now be automatically recovered whether the user is working in Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook.

Hotmail and MSN Instant Messenger are also integrated for Outlook users. New, context-specific Smart Tags will appear as icons on the screen while users are working, giving them additional information on completing tasks and accessing information.

These tags will help users access information from the Web or other Office applications. The tags can be easily disabled or removed from the screen. Office 10 also with built–in speech-recognition technology that allows users to write and edit documents using voice commands, by typing, or doing both simultaneously.

Microsoft also has improved the suite’s collaborative document creation and review process, allowing workers to send documents for review directly from the various Office applications. Multiple documents can now be compared, and changes implemented or rejected through a new user interface, while changes from multiple reviewers can be merged into one document.

The new Office is compatible with previous versions and will not require hardware upgrades, officials said.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., is at www.microsoft.com.