XP kicks Clippy out of the Office

TORONTO — If a person in a pink suit offered you a free software package, would you take it?

Roughly 50,000 people did Thursday, when Microsoft launched its new desktop suite Office XP. Demonstration copies were distributed by duos wearing pink foam X and P outfits.

Word amongst Microsoft Gold partners is that Office XP will find its greatest audience with Office 98 users looking to upgrade.

Office 2000 users won’t latch onto the latest iteration of the desktop suite as readily, said Jason Martin, co-founder of solution provider Navantis Inc., based in Toronto.

“I think it’s going to be people who are two versions out (i.e. Office 98) that will upgrade. It’s going to be the people who see this as a really significant change,” he explained. “The people currently on 2000 will switch over to Office XP when Windows XP comes out.”

But there is a significant proportion of Office users that passed on the 2000 version, said Mike Picher of Xwave, in the company’s Augusta, Ga., office. ” A lot of people didn’t see the need to go to 2000 from 97 until the features were different enough, but I think XP offers a whole new set of features,” he said. “It’s a really good avenue for resellers to make some extra profit and build some more business with customers.”

Gone from Office is the much-maligned “Clippy” animated paperclip help feature, ostensibly replaced by a more comprehensive features window called the Task Pane. Ease of use is the name of the game for Office XP, Microsoft executives said during the official launch in downtown Toronto.

Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co. and research firm Ipso-Reid released a study Thursday to coincide with the software launch. According to the study, 97 per cent of PC users in Canada said there was a need for tools that would allow easier access to information.

“We learned a lot from Office 2000. It wasn’t that strong,” said Microsoft Canada CEO Frank Clegg. ” If you’re spending half your time on a PC today, we can break that time in half.”

Clegg added that time-saving will be a key incentive for users to upgrade to Office XP, and that the product’s learning curve is significantly steeper than its predecessor.

Office 2000 users weren’t taking advantage of its productivity features because they weren’t simple to learn, according to Office XP product manager Elliot Katz. “A lot of people still create PowerPoint presentations in black and white because they don’t know the design tools,” he said. The new PowerPoint is the first to allow multiple templates within the same presentation.

As a tie-in to Microsoft’s .Net strategy, Office XP offers native Extensible Markup Language (XML) support for import and export of XML-based data. Another significant new feature, said executives, are Smart Tags for easier AutoCorrect, AutoFormat and Paste options. The product also features closer integration with Outlook and contact lists.

“Quite honestly, it surprises me that their engineers keep coming up with new stuff like this,” said Martin. “You kind of think by this time there’s no more that can be done with it. But there is.”

According to Martin, one of Navantis’ clients wants to use Word XP as the front end for a data mining project.

Microsoft also launched standard and professional editions of Visio XP Thursday, a diagramming tool. This is the first Visio product to be developed by Microsoft since the company acquired Visio Corp. last January, said product manager Joseph Galati. An enterprise edition will be released in July.

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