When Microsoft releases the next update of its Microsoft Office suite in June, a version tailored for small and medium businesses (SMBs) will be included in the product line.
Few details were forthcoming about the version from Microsoft, which confirmed that an SMB edition of Office 2003 was in the works, but declined to comment on the software's anticipated functionality or pricing.
The company also declined to specify whether the SMB edition will be a new retail offering or a continuation of a little-known suite it already offers, a Small Business edition of Office available only from computer manufacturers as a pre-installed product.
Microsoft's current Office suite, Office XP, has three retail versions. The Standard edition, priced at $US479 for new users, includes Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. Office XP Professional, which also includes Microsoft's Access database software, retails for $US579. The Developer version adds to the suite several development products such as FrontPage and costs $US799.
Pricing for Office 2003, now in beta testing, has not yet been announced.
The current SMB version of Office XP includes Word, Excel and Outlook, but drops PowerPoint in favour of Microsoft's Publisher software. Vendors selling the software include Dell Computer and Gateway.
Prices vary, but buying Office XP Small Business Edition pre-installed from a manufacturer is often the least expensive way for businesses to legally purchase Office, Directions on Microsoft analyst, Paul DeGroot, said.
And that's what smaller businesses needed most from Microsoft, he said - not tailored Office features, but a lower price tag.
"A lot of people are still using Office 97 because they aren't willing to fork over $US400 for the latest version of Office," DeGroot said.
Word and Excel were the most-used Office applications, DeGroot said. What cost-conscious businesses craved was a cheaper way to give employees those core applications.
If Microsoft made Office XP Small Business Edition available through the retail channel at the prices manufacturers generally charge, which DeGroot estimated at between $US150 and $US200, it would likely find significant demand for the bundle - but at the cost of cannibalising sales for its more-expensive Office packages, he said.
A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on whether the planned SMB edition of Office 2003 would be available through retailers. More details would be available closer to the product's launch.