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Office 2003 Goes Live For Volume Buyers

Microsoft Office System 2003 hits yet another milestone Monday when volume customers will be able to download it.

Office 2003, and its Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook components,will be available for download as will OneNote, the totally new note-taking application.

Customers on Enterprise Agreements or Software Assurance will be able to download as of Monday, as will MSDN subscribers, said Dan Leach, lead product manager for Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group.

Leach said hardware OEMs will start shipping the first machines preloaded with the Office suite by the end of September. After that, the next major event will be October 21 New York launch of the retail product where Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Group Vice President Jeff Raikes will hold court.

Microsoft has been dribbling out Office 2003 news for a year now. Last week, the company announced Office Online, a web-based repository of Office add-ons and content from Microsoft and third parties. Users can go there to find and download free and paid content including clip art, sounds, and automation tools for use in Office applications

For example, those who want to help with business documents, the site offers links to ActiveDocs from Keylogix with templates for correspondence, performance reviews, balance sheets, invoices and project risk analyses available for sale.

Corporate resellers and others are hoping Office 2003 will break the logjam on IT purchases.

"We expect Office System 2003 to have a major impact on sales activity in the next few months - and not just because of its new features," said Paul Jarvie, president of ASAP Software, a large account reseller in Buffalo Grove, Ill. "While the launch date of October 21 is widely known, it's important to note that it becomes available in the volume licensing channel in September which corresponds to the launch date of Microsoft's new Software Assurance benefits. There is no better time for customers to purchase Office license or renew SA coverage on licenses they already own."

Jarvie said Microsoft's decision to package Office 2003 up as a system of related products is a big bet. The conglomeration of software includes not only the core Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook products but SharePoint Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003 as well as Windows 2003-resident capabilities such as SharePoint Services.

But the same interdependencies between products that make for an integrated set of functions and features can complicate upgrades. For example, the latest releases of Microsoft Commerce Server and Content Management Server will not run on the new Windows Server 2003 operating system without significant tweaks. And SharePoint Portal Server 2001 will not run on the new operating system at all. (See story.)

Others are not so sure that the continuing tight IT budgets and user inertia won't dampen upgrade demand. "The changes to the applications themselves, with the exception of Outlook, which has some compelling new features, are very modest," said Paul DeGroot, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash. researcher.

Even as Microsoft gets the late Office 2003 out the door, it is revamping the software development and quality assurance procedure for the next major release, the so-called Longhorn release of Office, currently called Office 12 internally. The Longhorn version of Windows, barely a blip on the radar screen, is due in 2005, or beyond.

At the company's analyst meeting last summer, Microsoft executives said the first technical beta of Longhorn will debut at the Professional Developer's Conference in October, with a broader beta test due next year. (See story.)

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