Microsoft's next release of its Office suite is likely to be popular with users, but not for the reasons the software giant would like.
Most will not be interested in its advanced features, according to analysts, but will value the upgrade as it will correct existing problems, such as Outlook freezing when there is a network problem.
That was the verdict following a preview and demonstration of Office 11 last week which trumpeted the product's improved collaboration features.
"The most compelling part is that it eliminates Outlook 'brain freeze'. That was a number one problem and, on that alone, this would be beneficial," Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, told vnunet.com.
Office 11 is currently being beta tested in the UK by 20 unnamed users, and is targeted for a mid-year launch.
According to analyst Gartner, mass mainstream migrations to Office 11 are not likely to begin until the second half of next year.
One of the main new features is the use of XML and 'smart documents' that allow data in Excel spreadsheets, for example, to be submitted directly into the back-end.
Integration with the forthcoming Sharepoint Team Services version 2 and Sharepoint portal will increase the collaboration capability of Outlook.
This will allow it to act as a repository for colleagues to create subgroups around meetings and projects, and deposit and share documents or build agendas.
A connection detection feature will also check the type of network connection, such as dial-up or local area network, and configure Outlook appropriately for optimum performance.
Microsoft's OneNote electronic note-taking software, previewed by Bill Gates at Comdex last year, will launch at the same time as Office 11, although this is initially likely to appeal only to consultancies and academic institutions.
Enderle said most users would not want, or not be able to afford, the collaboration features.
"If users want to use the other stuff it will increase the cost, but I'm not sure that those will be the drivers for adoption," he said.
David Bennie, UK product marketing manager for Office at Microsoft, indicated that pricing is not yet available for Office 11 but would not be "vastly different" to previous releases.
He added that it will not be a very costly upgrade for most users as it is included in the Software Assurance and Upgrade Advantage licensing packages.
Separately, Microsoft is to stop using the '.Net' brand in future releases of its software. The first product to drop .Net is Windows Server 2003, which is due to launch later this year.
Microsoft revealed the change in a release to its partners and described as an effort to reduce confusion among customers and "clarify the naming and branding strategy for .Net".
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