Microsoft set to announce Office System pricing, RTM

Microsoft is finalizing work on its Office System products, an announcement on pricing and release to manufacturing (RTM) is imminent, sources familiar with the company's plans said.

The announcement could come as early as this week and will include most of the Office System applications, these sources said. RTM takes Microsoft to the final stage before commercial launch of the software scheduled later this quarter.

The Office System, a term introduced earlier this year, includes the 2003 editions of the Office Suite products Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access, as well as the 2003 editions of FrontPage, OneNote, Publisher, Project, Visio, InfoPath, SharePoint Portal Server, Live Communications Server and Live Meeting.

RTM does not apply to Live Meeting because it is a service, not a software. However, a new version of the service will be released in the fourth quarter. Pricing for Office Live Communications Server 2003 will actually be announced on Monday, a person close to Microsoft said.

RTM is when Microsoft freezes the code and deems the software ready for customer use. Analysts have been expecting Microsoft to announce RTM, otherwise the company would miss its self-imposed deadline to deliver it before the end of September.

"It would not surprise me to see RTM announced soon, it is certainly due," said Ken Smiley, an independent analyst in Overland Park, Kansas.

Joe Wilcox, a Washington, D.C.-based Jupiter Research senior analyst, agreed. "Microsoft has always said that the product would RTM in the summer. An announcement next week would not be surprising at all."

While Microsoft in the past announced pricing for Office when it detailed the bundles, this time the company has not done that with Office 2003. Pricing will be in line with Office XP, is all that Microsoft has said. However, analyst Paul DeGroot, with Directions on Microsoft Inc., in Kirkland, Washington, thinks Microsoft may cut pricing.

"This is a really late time to announce pricing. That raises in my mind the possibility that Microsoft may lower volume prices, which would probably fuel a lot of upgrades," he said.

By announcing RTM and pricing for the all Office System, Microsoft hopes to underline Office as a system of applications designed to work together. "It is certainly part of Microsoft's strategy to portray Office as a one big overarching information worker solution," Smiley said.

Although RTM is imminent, plans could change if last minute bugs are discovered.

Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, declined to comment for this story.

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Joris Evers

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