Microsoft previewed the successor to Office 97 at PC Expo this week, and announced a 20,000-user beta programme. Office 2000, as the product will be called, will sport new Internet features, integration with Internet Information Server and flexible installation options.
20,000 customers will receive Beta 1 of Office 2000 in July, Microsoft announced. The final product is expected to ship in late 1998 or early 1999.
Office 2000 will support HTML as a document format on almost equal footing with its own file formats such as .DOC and .XLS. Documents can be opened from and saved to a Web server just like they would to a local disk, using the Web server as a collaboration tool.
The new Web features in Office 2000 will allow the software to be used to create a ?two-way Web?, said Deanna Meyer, product manager at Microsoft. Users will be able to share documents with co-workers by saving them directly to a group home page, where they can be read, annotated and edited by others. The same feature will allow authorised users to open documents on their company Web site, edit them and save them back ? bypassing the Webmaster.
As well as documents, Office 2000 users will also be able to save 'interactive' content to the Web, for instance an Excel table that allows Web users to edit certain data in their browser and immediately calculate the result.
However, Office?s heavy Internet slant should not be confused for a conversion to open standards, or away from proprietary technology. Most of the group collaboration features require Internet Information Server (running on Windows NT Server) at the back end. And the XML (eXtendable Markup Language) tags that Microsoft has added to HTML in order to map all Office document formatting features, will mean that the documents created in Office may look radically different when viewed on, for instance, a Netscape browser.
This means that many new features in Office 2000 might only benefit 'Microsoft-only' shops.
Other features in Office 2000 include:
* Flexible installation options, from a full local install to a zero footprint 'run from server' configuration, and multiple variations in between (such as local installation of only the most used components).
* Self-repairing installation, a feature already shipping in Office 98 for the Macintosh.
* 'Collect and Copy', a clipboard-like feature that allows multiple document fragments to be stored at the same time.
* Multi-language support: MS Word will automatically recognise in which language a document, or even a sentence is written, and will use the appropriate spell checker.
* Enhancements to the Office Assistant (aka the talking paperclip), who will now no longer be confined to a window and freely roam the screen.
A feature that appears unlikely to make it into Office 2000 is speech technology. Bill Gates earlier this year demonstrated a version of Outlook that reacted to spoken commands and could read out email messages. But the technology will not be included in beta 1 of Office 2000, and will probably not be in the final product.
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