Microsoft launches Office 2003

Microsoft launches Office 2003

Microsoft has released the biggest revamp of its Office productivity software in at least five years, launching the Office System 2003 in Australia last week.

It is also touting huge opportunities for its channel partners with the new suite.

The Office System is made up of the company’s traditional Office suites and programs, but has been enhanced with new applications including InfoPath, OneNote, Exchange Server, Visio, Project and SharePoint Portal Server.

New products such as the InfoPath information manager, along with deeper integration between existing Office applications and Microsoft’s back-end server software, are aimed at enabling more effective and secure information sharing.

The New Office 2003 presented huge opportunities for the channel, director of Microsoft’s partner group, Kerstin Baxter, said.

“Really there are opportunities across the whole channel, depending on what their business model is,” she said. “Our systems builder and OEM partners will have the opportunity to bundle our Office 2003 product with other applications.

“Our developer partners who will have the opportunity to develop solutions that sit across the overall product suite. They can leverage a lot of the new technologies like what’s included in InfoPath or OneNote, particularly InfoPath in terms of integration in to other systems because it leverages the XML solutions. Our systems integrators and businesses that assist organisations in improving their overall desktop productivity will also gain from the new Office products.”

Post-launch, Baxter said Microsoft would continue to work with its channel partners to help them learn how to deploy the products effectively and how to develop around them.

“We’re doing a lot of integration work with ISVs, and we’ll continue to provide system builder training as well as sales training to our retail partners,” she said. “In some cases we’ll be offering on-site training, particularly for those partners who showed interest earlier in developing solutions for Office 2003 based on an Office Solutions program.

“We’ve provided partners with the opportunity to learn how to develop solutions around Office as well as to earn incentives in terms of their early investment such as joint marketing with Microsoft both at launch events and in case studies available immediately after the launch which lets them showcase their great solutions.”

At the recent US launch of Office 2003, Microsoft chief architect, Bill Gates, illustrated the collaborative advances in Office 2003. He demonstrated SharePoint Portal’s capabilities for linking documents from several workers and discussed the pervasive role of XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Web services standards in enabling Office 2003’s data integration.

“This advance would not have been possible without the industry’s commitment to XML and Web services,” he said. “Virtually every large customer Microsoft has is now building at least some of their applications around Web services.”

Gates also highlighted the look-and-feel tweaks in Office 2003, focusing on Outlook, which he called the most-changed Office application.

Back-end revamping on Exchange 2003 would increase efficiency and let companies reduce server and bandwidth costs, he said. New spam filters would potentially save users hours each week.

Office 2003 fundamentally alters the relationship between Microsoft’s applications and the back-end systems with which they interact, US-based Yankee Group senior analyst, Dana Gardner, said.

By exploiting the advantages of Extensible Markup Language (XML) and tightening the connections between Office 2003 and server software like Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal Server and forthcoming Office Live Communications Server, formerly codenamed “Greenwich”, Office 2003 became a front-end for an array of business processes, Gardner said.

“In the past, Microsoft apps were really standalone, isolated products. The files it created were scattered about and hard to manage,” he said. “[Office 2003] combines the best of what Web services and XML have to offer with the strength that the client/server paradigm has to offer.

It’s taken an awfully long time to get there, but developers and ISVs [independent software vendors] will look at this as not just an upgrade but really as a dramatic shift in how Office can be productive.”

The new front-end/back-end integration offered by Office 2003 more easily allows connections among Office applications and between those applications and other corporate systems.

Companies would, for example, be able to more easily shift data from Office applications such as Excel and Outlook and their own customer relationship management (CRM) system.

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