Microsoft Office 2003 launched

After months of testing and advance marketing, Microsoft on Tuesday formally launched its new Office System family of products, involving personal productivity applications, server software, andrelated services centered around the company’s refreshed desktop suite, Office 2003.

The product barrage includes professional and small-business editions of Office 2003, which comes with updated versions of Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Word, and the new InfoPath application for generating business documents using XML-formatted data. In addition, Microsoft introduced upgrades to its FrontPage, Project, and Visio applications, which are sold separately, and a new standalone application called OneNote, for electronic note taking. It also rolled out two improved server products–SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003–a new instant-messaging server, dubbed Live Communications Server, and a Web conferencing service, Live Meeting.

All told, the launch amounted to more than 15 products and product packages. “Today, we’re introducing more software products in a single day than any day in our history,” said Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates at the 90-minute event in New York.

In fact, virtually all of the Office System products already have been available to businesses with enterprise licensing agreements, some for a few weeks, others for months. The one exception is a service planned for early next year that will make it easier for business people to manage work-related E-mail and calendaring applications alongside personal accounts set up on Microsoft’s MSN site.

Gates pointed to three themes common to the Office System products: collaboration, connectivity via XML, and efficiency. “Every one of these products is about sharing information and collaborating,” he said. Gates called improved workgroup effectiveness the “next frontier” in an applications category that for years has focused in individual productivity.

Group VP Jeff Raikes pointed to results of a Microsoft-funded study by Navigant Consulting Inc. as proof that the new software can increase business productivity. Navigant looked at how Office System products were used by 14 early adopters. On average, workers at those companies realized a 5% increase in productivity, or the equivalent of two hours of freed-up work time, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft customer Siemens AG said it plans to deploy the Office 2003 desktop applications to 330,000 employees around the world. Dieter Reinersmann, in the office of the CIO at Siemens, said the company has reduced software development and maintenance costs using Microsoft’s new and upgraded products. New features in Exchange 2003 have made it possible for Siemens to consolidate the number of Exchange server locations from 150 to fewer than 20, he said.

Office 2003 applications are more adaptable to business processes because of the built-in support for XML and the way they work with Microsoft’s BizTalk Server, InfoPath, and Viseo applications, and Windows SharePoint Services, Gates said. “How Office and business processes come together have historically been separate things,” Gates said.

The catch for businesses that want to enjoy the full benefits of the Office System, however, is that it requires deploying both desktop applications and server software. Says Joe Eschbach, corporate VP of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management Group, “It’s true that the value ladders up.”

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