May 18, 2005 9:00 PM PDT

Microsoft offers peek at next Office suite

REDMOND, Wash.--After months of remaining nearly mum about the next version of Office, Microsoft is slowly breaking the silence.

The company is still not discussing the specifics on most of the features it will add with Office 12, but it is promising to have the productivity software suite ready by the second half of next year. The company is also talking about some broad areas that it sees as ripe for improvement, including enhanced collaboration. Among the other key areas are individual productivity, finding business information and managing corporate business documents.

"There are things that are still hard as well as things that have gotten harder," Microsoft Group Vice President Jeff Raikes said in an interview.


What's new:
The software giant is shedding a little light on what to expect in its next productivity software suite, but the company is still keeping us in the dark on specifics.

Bottom line:
Some broad areas that it sees as ripe for improvement include enhanced collaboration, individual productivity, finding business information and managing corporate business documents.

More stories on Microsoft Office.

Some things, like e-mail, have improved, but nonetheless raised new challenges. Raikes noted studies that show that the average worker gets about 10 times as much e-mail now as in 1997. That's projected to increase another fivefold in the next four years, Raikes said.

To handle that increase, as well as the rise of instant messaging and other forms of electronic communication, Microsoft is trying to develop software that can do a better job of sorting out the really important messages. The concept of setting rules that let designated contacts such as one's boss or children reach their intended recipient in a meeting while everyone else gets sent to voice mail has been around for a while, but Raikes said that scenario is getting closer to reality.

"The vision will always continue to expand," Raikes said. But "it's sort of a major leap in that direction."

For Microsoft, the need for a compelling new release is critical. Along with Windows, the Office suite is one of two cash cows for the software maker. The vast majority of the company's profits come from those two products.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft is choosing a key audience with which to first share its Office 12 plans. Chairman Bill Gates is set to discuss the software in a speech Thursday at the company's CEO Summit here, which is expected to be attended by Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Best Buy's Brad Anderson, as well as many other prominent chief executives.

The new Office edition is slated to come at roughly the same time as Longhorn, the next version of Windows. However, the company has scrapped earlier plans that would have seen the two products tightly coupled together. Office 12 is expected to run on both Longhorn and older versions, with the major changes to Office not dependent on any shifts in Windows.

Microsoft did offer a few specific features it plans to add. As part of its attempt to let workers better make sense of ever-growing amounts of data, the company is adding into Excel the ability to create

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This is the wrong direction for application development
Bill G. needs to take a lession from Unix. "Do one thing well" Look at FireFox. It's a web browser. Email and news are handled by Thunderbird. If I want to edit a web page, I use a text editor, not Netscape 8.0.
Posted by (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Partially agree.
I agree this is the wrong direction for Office to take, but for different reasons. Although I congratulate Microsoft for wanting their Office suite to be XML-compliant, the remaining additions seem to be scatter-brained at best.

Office has had a history of going from small to large to outrageously bloated to small again. A riches-to-rages-to-riches sort-of scenario. I believe Office will slowly begin to transition to that "large" category again, and we're going to eventually end up with quad-CD Office installations like we did 6-7 years ago. On the bright side, at least Microsoft has "standardised" their applications look and feel...

There's too much creeping featurism in many of the Office applications, which is going to be its downfall. I want a word processor, not something that can do tasks for me. Did these guys never have the chance to use AppleWorks for the Apple ][ during their childhood? ;-)

I disagree with your comparison of Office to the "mentality" behind *IX applications and the "Do it right once" mentality. Open-source is living proof no one can do it right once -- but instead, do it again and again and again and never get it right.
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
Wow, put all those applications together on one system, and you have a new invention you could invent a new term for, perhaps "suite"?

And since it's likely that your web page designer or email client will need some internet functionality (which your browser alreay has), perhaps building these apps so they can leverage each others' capabilities would be in order.

Hmmm, where does that leave you?
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
not really, it's strategical
Having strong positions in one field (Office) gives them extra synergy for inroads into other apps markets through integration.

But really it's not only about subversive competition. Integrate-all is pivotal as an alternative business model to open-source, implicitly embracing the Unix concept of "one task one app". Only MS and the like can do this as they're an "integrated" monolitical organizations themselves. In the long-term they should prove that integrated software development produces more usable apps for the masses than a big bunch of loosely-coupled apps doing well one task. Both concepts have a rationale and their followers. We shall see.
Posted by alx359 (40 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I still use Office 97
and it works just fine for me!
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Office 97
I got a free copy of Office 97 when I went to a Microsoft meeting. I used it for a long time, but now it just collects dust on my shelf. I have since moved on to WordPerfect Office 12.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
If you're using Office 97...
... then you probably aren't exchanging files
with folks using newer versions of Word (like
Word XP) that introduce new file format

One reason our company doesn't upgrade the Win2K
desktops to WinXP is that they hadn't budgeted
for upgrading Office. We are using Office 2K,
which failed the compatibility tests for XP. I
almost had a stroke laughing so hard when I
heard that...
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
Link Flag
I am the same way..
I haven't found a compelling reason to spend the $200, or whatever Microsoft is asking for Office these days , on a new version when 97 does everything I need. Recent I started using Open Office simply because it's still being supported and actively developed which is good should a security issue come up and it has better support for newer formats.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Why is it only Microsoft Office spreads viruses?
My theory is most consumers of software have a "herd of sheep"-like mentality. Take the MS Office situation.

There is no such thing as an office document macro virus, only a Microsoft Office document macro virus. There are no Corel Word Perfect viruses, no Open Office viruses, etc.

$500 for all the bells and whistles? (And other various Microsoft viruses) Why would anyone in his/her right mind pay that when every other office package is cheaper (or free) as well as more stable, compatible, no viruses, etc? The only thing alternatives are missing is the internal MS Office virus generator. That's a feature I can live without.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't underestimate the value of viri
Imagine the love you will feel, when MS does you the huge 'favor' of fixing the exploitable code.

You just can't simply put a value on that sort of love. ;)
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Link Flag
Let's hope that these products are for real this time around!
Have we all ever given thought to the fact that over time - since the inception of the PC as we have come to know it... how many times there have been upgrades to the various software and hardware products we use - lets say a business plan is to be developed an presented to an international financial institution for funding (most likely certain criteria will have to be met) this can either be completed "manually" or by the use of a computer; but, here is the deal, the specific application/s is/are not available using this new "collaborative" WXY suites that companies Z, Q, M and B have been apparently experimenting with through the availability of yours (and mine) $$$ over the years if this is not the case then what do you do with your old computer/s and software when comes the time for the upgrades (experiments that still cannot meet all your requirements... (why the need to upgrades, I guess some folks did not get it "right" the first time around; that is, the way people work/wish to work or collaborate, communicate or cooperate ;-) ) that again have to be funded by you? Will you still be interested in purchasing these products!!!

Posted by (187 comments )
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