Microsoft has issued the first technical beta release of the next version of Office to a select group of users and plans to launch the personal productivity suite in the middle of next year.
Among the new features of the upgrade - codenamed Office - 10 are a speech recognition capability to enable users to create and edit documents verbally, and the potentially irritating Smart Tags such as AutoCorrect, AutoFormat and Paste. These, explained the company, will appear on the screen while you work to provide "useful information for completing tasks or accessing data".
Industry observers believe that Microsoft has been disappointed by the number of people who upgraded to Office 2000 from Office 97 and is trying hard to incorporate more enticing features.
Other new developments include expanded collaboration capabilities as well as a feature called Office Designer for the development of applications based on Visual Basic.
Microsoft has billed the upcoming release as "the most ambitious and significant Office product release ever", according to Steven Sinofsky, the company's senior vice president for the product. But not all analysts are convinced.
Rob Enderle, of Giga Information Group, said that increased user friendliness within Office 10 will be the main reason for customers to upgrade, but he does not believe that there will be any major enhancements except a decreased likelihood of bugs.
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