Microsoft pushes back Office 2003 launch

Microsoft Corp., following feedback from beta testers, plans to release a "refresh" of Office 2003 beta 2 before finalizing the product, pushing back the commercial launch of the productivity software suite until the third quarter, the company said Thursday.

"We are making a number of improvements to the beta 2 version of the Office System products," said a Microsoft spokesman who asked not to be named. "There are no major issues with Office 2003, but the beta has allowed the Office development team to gather feedback about some minor issues that can impact customer satisfaction."

Microsoft declined to detail what improvements are being made or what issues the beta testers found. The refreshed version is scheduled to be released later this quarter, most likely on Microsoft's Office beta Web site, the spokesman said.

Office 2003 beta 2 was announced in early March. Originally, Microsoft was planning to release the final Office 2003 code in June, but that has now been pushed back to some time in the third quarter, the spokesman said.

About 600,000 copies of the second beta have been distributed and Microsoft has received double the amount of feedback it normally gets on an Office beta, the spokesman said.

"The refresh is letting us address problems up front, whereas in the past we would have had to wait until after the product shipped to get this feedback," the spokesman said.

A second beta is typically followed by a version of the software that is almost ready to be commercially released. A refreshed beta is a rarity at Microsoft, the spokesman said. The refresh is not a third beta, as that would entail more than just offering the software online, new manuals and new CDs, for example, he said.

Microsoft released the first beta version of Office 2003 in October last year to a few thousand testers, many within Microsoft. 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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