Microsoft accidentally posts Office 2003 beta 2

Microsoft posted the second beta of Office 2003 to its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Web site on Wednesday, only to pull it a few hours later.

"A copy of the second beta was inadvertently posted yesterday. It was subsequently pulled because it is not ready for customers," a Microsoft spokeswoman in Europe said Thursday. "We expect the beta 2 to ship in March."

Microsoft won't specify how many MSDN subscribers downloaded the beta, saying only that it was "a very low number."

With the posting, Microsoft also confirmed Office 2003 as the name for the successor to Office XP, dropping the Office 11 code name. IDG News Service first reported the name change last week.

"We can now confirm the Office 2003 name," the spokeswoman said. The name is in line with the nomenclature for other new Microsoft products. For example, Microsoft earlier this year changed the Windows .Net Server product name to Windows Server 2003, with the launch of the server platform scheduled for April 24.

One of those who got a sneak preview of the software is Steven Bink of Amsterdam, owner of an IT services company and a Microsoft beta tester. Bink was only able to download part of the package; he offers screenshots of FrontPage 2003, InfoPath and OneNote 2003 on his Web site. (http://winxp.bink.nu/)

FrontPage is Microsoft's Web authoring tool. OneNote and InfoPath are two new additions to Office. OneNote is designed for taking notes and, besides text, can handle and integrate rich media, including digital ink, audio, HTML, and graphics. InfoPath helps users pull together data in back-end systems using XML (Extensible Markup Language) and work with that data in a form-like document.

"When I heard the beta was available, I immediately started downloading it," said Bink. "Apparently it was not meant to be offered online yet. It was unusual that it appeared on MSDN first, before being shipped to the official beta testers."

In addition to FrontPage, OneNote and InfoPath, the second Office 2003 beta also includes Sharepoint Portal Server version 2.0 and 2003 versions of Publisher, Outlook with Business Contact Manager and Windows Sharepoint Services 2003, according to a screenshot of Microsoft's MSDN page on Bink's Web site.

Microsoft released the first beta version of Office 2003 in October last year to a few thousand testers, many within Microsoft. The second beta version will be widely available, possibly to hundreds of thousands of testers. The final product should be out midyear, Microsoft has said.

Most of the applications in the new version of Office, the successor to Office XP, will look and act much as they currently do. Under the hood, however, there are some big changes, with enhanced collaborative tools and support for XML being the most important ones.

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Joris Evers

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