Microsoft unveils Office 2003 lineup

When Microsoft Corp. releases its Office 2003 suite in June, several new application bundles will join the Office lineup, including a high-end Professional edition and a new Small Business edition.

Microsoft's current Office suite, Office XP, has three retail editions: Standard, Professional and Developer. Microsoft also sells a Students and Teachers version of Office XP, offering all the applications included in the Standard Edition at a lower cost.

With Office 2003, Microsoft plans to drop the Developer edition. The Office XP Developer edition included all the applications bundled with Office XP Professional, along with additional tools such as Microsoft's FrontPage Web site creation and management software, which the company also sells as a standalone product.

Microsoft instead will encourage developers to use a new set of tools, tentatively named "Visual Studio Tools for Office," that will be released in conjunction with Office 2003, said Simon Marks, product manager for Microsoft Office. FrontPage will continue to be sold on its own, he said.

Like Office XP, Office 2003 will have three widely available retail versions: Professional, Standard and the new Small Business edition.

Microsoft already has an Office bundle branded for small business, Office XP Small Business Edition. But that package, available only from computer manufacturers as a preinstalled product, is essentially a stripped-down, low-cost edition that removes PowerPoint from the Office bundle and replaces it with Microsoft Publisher, a desktop publishing application.

In contrast, Office 2003 Small Business Edition will be widely available through a number of channels, including retailers, and will include everything in Microsoft's Office 2003 Standard Edition along with several additional applications.

Microsoft Office 2003 Standard Edition will include Word 2003, Excel 2003, PowerPoint 2003 and Outlook 2003. The Small Business Edition will include all those applications plus Publisher 2003 and a new product, Microsoft's Business Contact Manager 2003.

Microsoft is planning two Professional versions of Office 2003: a widely available one including 2003 versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher and Business Contact Manager; and a high-end offering, Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Enterprise Edition, available only through volume licensing.

The Professional Enterprise Edition will add to the mix Microsoft's forthcoming InfoPath 2003 software. Previously code-named "XDocs," InfoPath is a collaborative information gathering and management application.

Both Professional suites will include slightly different versions of Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint than will the Standard and Small Business Editions: The new, Professional versions of those applications will feature added functionality including rights-management controls and custom-definable XML (Extensible Markup Language) schema.

Documents that take advantage of those Professional features will be viewable using any version of Office 2003 applications, Marks said. The aim is to offer corporate users additional management options while still maintaining complete compatibility between the Standard and Professional versions of Office 2003 applications, he said.

Microsoft also plans to sell standalone copies of the Professional versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access through a number of channels, including retailers. Microsoft has not yet disclosed pricing for any Office 2003 packages. Office XP Standard is priced at $479 for new users, while Office XP Professional retails for US$579.

The company will continue offering an Office Students and Teachers Edition, including all the applications available in the Standard Edition. With Office 2003, Microsoft plans to loosen the eligibility requirements for the edition, making it available not only to students, but to their parents as well. Any family with children under 18 will qualify to purchase the edition, Marks said.

Microsoft expects the Students and Teachers Edition to be its leading Office 2003 seller to home users, he said. By Microsoft's calculations, more than 50 percent of U.S. households will qualify to purchase it, according to Marks.

Microsoft also plans to expand the installation license for the edition, allowing purchasers to install and concurrently use the software on as many as three PCs within the same home. Currently, Microsoft's Office licenses allow home users to install the software on both a primary PC and a backup computer, such as a laptop, but the two devices cannot be used simultaneously.

A bare-bones Office suite, Microsoft Office 2003 Basic Edition, will be available only as a preinstalled product sold directly from computer manufacturers, much as Microsoft's Office XP Small Business Edition is now. The Basic Edition will include Word, Excel and Outlook.

Microsoft Office 2003 is slated for worldwide release in late-June. It will initially be offered in English, German, French and Japanese, with localized versions in more than 20 languages scheduled to follow by the end of the year.

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Stacy Cowley

IDG News Service
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