Speech recognition to hit MS Office

New capability to debut in Beta 1 of Office 10, Microsoft's update to its Windows desktop applications suite, which is expected 2001

Microsoft has notified testers that it has officially launched Beta 1 of the next version of Microsoft Office for Windows, codenamed Office 10.

Microsoft is adding new features to all of the applications that make up its desktop suite, according to testers. But the most noticeable change to Office 10 will be the addition of speech capabilities.

Word 10 is being enabled with speech to handle both voice dictation and command-and-control scenarios, testers said.

Office 10 is the successor to Office 2000 for Windows (which is expected to ship next year) and is anticipated to be a fairly minor upgrade on the way to Office.Net, the company's next major version of Office.

According to Microsoft's .NET roadmap, Office.Net is due to ship sometime in 2002 or later.

While Microsoft is working on Office 10, it simultaneously is putting the finishing touches on its next Office release for the Macintosh. The company has said it will ship its next Mac Office release, called Mac Office 2001, this October.

Office 10 is the successor to Office 2000 for Windows (which is expected to ship next year) and is anticipated to be a fairly minor upgrade on the way to Office.Net.

Microsoft has been far more secretive about its Office for Windows plans.

Company officials provided a demonstration of some of Office 10's capabilities at its late-July financial-analysts meeting.

Among the new features slated to be included in Office 10 are Web Parts components, Web-based data storage, "smart tags" and new formatting options.

Microsoft officials confirmed "an early technical beta has been shipped to a small subset of customers", but declined to comment on product timing or specifics.

According to a copy of the Office 10 Beta 1 release notes reviewed by ZDNet News, however, Microsoft has a number of new features due for inclusion in its next-generation desktop suite.

In addition to gaining speech-recognition capabilities, Beta 1 of Word for Office 10 is scheduled to include improved multi-user document editing, digital signature support, and enhancements to specific features such as footnoting and table creation.

The next version of Word also will include improved crash-recovery support and a "smart" copy-and-paste capability. Microsoft is creating more synergy between Office and Exchange Server, as well, according to the Beta 1 release notes.

With Office 10, Word becomes the default email editor, meaning Outlook users can make use of Word's text editing from within Outlook.

On the Excel spreadsheet front, Microsoft is focusing on the "unlocking data" concept in Beta 1 for Office 10. "Excel 10 will make it easier to find, analyse and publish data," Microsoft said in the beta release notes.

To fulfill this goal, Microsoft is adding to Excel a new Web query interface, "smart" tags and improved pivot-table programming capabilities. Microsoft also is adding XML support and new real-time-data analysis capabilities to Office 10. As with Word 10, Office 10 will get enhanced crash-recovery functionality.

With Access 10, Microsoft is focusing on maintaining backward file format compatibility with Access 2000 for its database application, while simultaneously adding a new file format option aimed at supporting larger projects.

The release notes acknowledge, however, that in Beta 1, replication between the different file formats is not working. As expected, Microsoft also is more closely aligning Access 10 and SQL Server 2000.

And with FrontPage 10, Microsoft is adding a team-Web-site-building capability, as well as making some minor tweaks to the user interface.

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