Microsoft to let Office users jump to Professional

Microsoft when it releases Office 2003 will give certain Office Standard Edition users the right to order Office Professional Edition applications at no extra cost and offer a "Step-up License" to upgrade to the full Office Professional suite, the company said.

Both offers apply only to volume license buyers who bought a right to upgrade to Office 2003 Standard Edition from earlier editions, either through Software Assurance or its predecessor, Upgrade Advantage, Microsoft said in a document posted to its licensing Web site on Monday.

Microsoft hopes the offers will entice customers to switch to the more expensive Office Professional Edition, but also aims to satisfy customers who may have been unpleasantly surprised by the vendor's move announced earlier this year to further differentiate the Office editions, said Dan Leach, lead product manager for Office at Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft.

"We announced the differentiation of the Office versions after customers may have made the decision to go with the Standard Edition. Those customers may want those new features in Office Professional," Leach said.

Traditionally the only difference between standard and professional versions of Office was the applications included in the suite. That is changing with the release of Office 2003 later this year. Now there will also be differences in features. For example, applications in Office 2003 Professional Edition will support customer-defined XML (Extensible Markup Language) schemas and information rights management, whereas the Standard Edition applications won't, Leach said.

Current Office Standard Edition users who bought upgrade rights before March 31 and have renewed them by March 31, 2004, will get perpetual rights to use the professional versions of Word 2003, Excel 2003, PowerPoint 2003 and Outlook 2003 without extra charge, Microsoft said.

Users who want the full Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003 can hand in their Standard Edition license and get a Professional Edition license by paying the price difference, Microsoft said. The Professional Edition also includes the InfoPath XML authoring tool and Outlook with Business Contact Manager.

The Step-up License will be sold from Sept. 1, 2003 until Sept. 1, 2004. Microsoft did not offer such a license upgrade option in the past, forcing customers who wanted to upgrade to buy a completely new license.

Microsoft has done the right thing, said Julie Giera, a vice president and research fellow at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"They have provided customers a transition path giving access to the Professional Edition without having to buy a brand new license and losing the investment in the Standard Edition," she said.

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