Gates To Talk Up Office 12 In 'New World Of Work' Scenario

At Microsoft's annual CEO Summit in Redmond, Wash., Gates will demonstrate Office 12 talents. The successor to Office 2003 is due for beta this fall, with general availability expected in the second half of 2006, Microsoft said.

These occasions offer Gates an opportunity to talk about broad trends and how technology can facilitate productivity gains.

"There is a single global market across geographies, time zones and cultures," noted Betsy Frost, senior director of marketing and strategy for Microsoft's Information Worker Product Group, speaking of the "New World of Work."

"People tend to be always connected, with greater access to more information but a bigger challenge finding and prioritizing it. Organizations, driven by regulations and demand for accountability, must be attuned to security and privacy concerns inside and out. And finally, a new generation of workers is entering the labor force already tech savvy and already comfortable with technology, Frost said.

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While Frost maintained this is not a sales pitch, observers note that the summit falls at a crucial time. A good number of Enterprise Agreement volume licenses are up for renewal this quarter and say Microsoft has to give big organizations a better reason to re-sign what are typically three-year deals. Office makes up the lion's share of most EA contracts. They also maintain that many bought-and-paid-for Office 2003 licenses remain undeployed three years after product shipment.

As for the next release of Office "integrated products, servers and services," Frost said the company will continue to focus on tighter integration of collaboration technologies and support for XML.

It will also promise tools to also allow easy creation of professional-looking documents, discovery of knowledge, data, and analysis to help users sort and prioritize the useful from not-so-useful information at their disposal.

In that area, Microsoft's proposed Maestro server for offering realtime score carding will play an important role, Frost said.

"While there is definitely information overload, there is also a notion of information underload—where key information about the business and processes is buried in mountains of data," Frost said. "We're looking at ways to expose that in scorecards posted to internal SharePoint portals," she noted.

And there will be a focus on enterprise content lifecycle, balancing individual control in creating documents with central management over distribution, access and retention, Frost said.

Of course all of this requires heavy reliance on Microsoft's software on PCs, servers, and other devices. Some corporate users may resist relying so heavily on one software vendor especially since some are still smarting from what they see as heavy-handed licensing changes last time around as well as security issues around Microsoft software. And, many of Microsoft's strategic messages—around content lifecycle management echo similar words coming out of EMC and other vendors.