Microsoft chairman Bill Gates today gave software engineers at the firm's Professional Developers Conference a sneak peek of the upcoming Windows Vista platform and the latest version of Office, codenamed Office 12.
Gates described enhancements in the forthcoming version of Office as the biggest advance for the application suite in more than a decade.
Demonstrated for the first time today, the software delivers a "thoroughly redesigned, results-oriented user interface" that aims to allow users to focus on what they want to do rather than how they do it.
This user interface replaces traditional menus and toolbars with a set of highly graphical command tabs that correspond to the tasks people want to accomplish.
Command tabs containing features and functionality for specialised tasks appear when customers need them and disappear when they are not relevant.
This approach to organising and presenting commands will make it simpler for users to find and use more Microsoft Office capabilities to get the results they want, Gates claimed.
"This is the most significant release of Microsoft Office since Office 95. Office 12 has all the essential ingredients to deliver an incredible productivity boost for millions of people around the world," he said.
"But that's only half the story. The expansion of server and developer capabilities in Office 12 are a great illustration of what is possible with today's platform."
In addition to more effectively organising and presenting Office functionality, the new user interface aims to help users more easily create documents.
Instead of editing and formatting one element of a document at a time, graphical galleries in Office 12 simplify the process by presenting a selection of potential layout results from which people can pick and click.
So-called Live Preview technology shows how each possible selection will change the document. According to Microsoft, customer research has indicated that people respond best when they can see what their final work will look like.
Office 12 is expected to ship in the second half of 2006, with a limited beta release this Autumn.
Gates also discussed the "significant platform investments" the company is making in Windows Vista. The Vista Community Technology Preview (CTP) programme, announced today, aims to involve customers and partners in the early stage of Vista development in a bid to boost software quality.
The first Windows Vista CTP build introduces newly developed features, including enhancements in visualisation and organisation that aim to give developers better tools for building the next generation of desktop applications.
It will also allow developers to use WinFX, the newly devised programming model for Windows Vista, to build applications that take advantage of the Windows Presentation Foundation and the Windows Communication Foundation.
Microsoft announced that the first Windows Vista CTP build will be distributed to all PDC attendees, as well as to participants in the Windows Vista technical beta programme and to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and Microsoft TechNet subscribers.
The company said it will then continue to release CTP builds on a monthly basis throughout the Windows Vista development process, and all feedback will be processed through the MSDN Product Feedback Center.
Click below for photos from the keynote:
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