MS plans March 9 ship for Office SME 2.0

Microsoft said today it has no plans to release the next version of its full Office application suite to PC vendor OEMs.

Instead, the firm will tout Office Small Business Edition (SBE) version 2.0, a new release scheduled for March 9. The move should quell fears of a repeat of last year's debacle which saw non-US PC vendors complaining of paying substantially more for OEM versions of Office than rivals like Gateway 2000 and Dell. Microsoft was then criticised for acting in an anti-competitive manner by many PC makers.

The Office SBE release will be available as both a retail (£199 upgrade) and OEM package. It will include Word 97, Excel 97, Publisher 98, Small Business Financial Manager 98, AutoRoute Express 98, Internet Explorer 4.0 and Outlook 97 with a voucher for free upgrade to the next version of Outlook that is slated for release in May or June. There are also UK-specific templates for accounting, sales lead tracking and Web site links, and an online reference detailing how to do business on the Net.

"The playing field has been levelled and with Professional, Standard, Developer and SME we now have a version of Office to suite everybody's needs," said David Bennie, Microsoft product manager for desktop applications.

The release should further strengthen Microsoft's iron grip on the productivity applications suite market. Romtec gave Microsoft an 86 per cent share of the UK sector for July-December 1997 period. Microsoft claims about 70 million Office users worldwide and sales of about 20 million units for Office 97.

Bennie added that Department of Trade and Industry figures suggest the UK has about 2.8 million businesses with between one and 100 staff. "The small business market is huge," he said.

Publisher 98 will also be available as a standalone product (about £49 upgrade and £99 non-upgrade on the street). The product includes an AutoConvert feature for saving files in HTML format for posting to Web sites; 1,600 templates; a global change design tool; music samples; animated GIFs; over 10,000 pieces of clip-art; 1,500 photographs; a colour design guide; and a spot colour tool.