Microsoft unveils Office 2003 System

Microsoft Office Suite is no longer a Suite of productivity software, but rather a System that will try to address what the software maker believes the market is looking for.

Mike Bulmer, product manager for Microsoft Office in Canada, said the reason for the new definition of Office revolves

around the main new features of the product — collaboration and document sharing.

“”It is about working together and the System reference tightly integrates with collaboration to the back end. Suite just doesn’t do it justice,”” he said.

The new version still has desktop staples such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access along with Publisher, FrontPage, Visio and Outlook, which were added in previous releases. New to Office will be SharePoint Services and Portal Server, Exchange 2003, Live Meeting (specifically for setting up and handling meetings), InfoPath (an information gathering program), OneNote (a note-taking program) and Project/Project Server.

Office 2003 also comes in six different versions from Professional to Basic for OEMs. Prices start at $219 for the Student and Teacher edition and can go as high as $759 for the Professional Enterprise edition.

Also available is a small business edition that starts at $659.

Bulmer said that Office 2003 will meet the needs of the SMB customer. With Content Manager with Outlook in Office it is very similar to a CRM system, which small businesses can take advantage of, Bulmer said.

Also PowerPoint will now be available in the small business edition of Office 2003.

For the channel, Microsoft has developed a new program called Solution Accelerator for Office 2003.

“”We are trying to make this real (for partners),”” Bulmer said. The Solution Accelerator program offers VARs templates for building solutions around Office 2003. For example, a human resources department may need a new form for recruiting. With Solution Accelerator templates, VARs can set it up with interview questions, personnel data fill ins and a rating system.

“”This is a real solution and it comes to life right out of the box and it helps partners expand their business,”” Bulmer said

Tim Peterson, senior consultant for Compugen Inc. of Toronto, said people may think this is just another Office release, but it will help partners build solutions.

Part of the new Office System will be Visual Studio Tools, which can now build custom solution right into Excel or Word. These solutions can also integrate with a company’s data and Web services.

Compugen has eight early adopters of Office 2003 in Canada. There are about 45,000 Canadian beta testers for Office 2003.

“”I do not think Office 2003 will be about the points (margin) you can make. It will be about the customized solutions you can build,”” Peterson said.

For example, Peterson sited Isotechnika, a public company that does drug trials. He said that Isotechnika deals with many phases of drug trials and in each phase there are several documents that have to be approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Compugen was able to build custom Word solutions that would be compliant with the FDA.

Michelle Warren, market analyst at Evans Research Inc. of Toronto said that the launch of Office 2003 hits the market at the right time. “”People right now are comfortable with productivity software and they are comfortable with the Microsoft name,”” she said.

Warren added that as the PC refresh starts to build momentum for early 2004, Office 2003 can drive that market even further. “”I am confident Office 2003 will start an up-tick in the market next year.””

Doug Cooper, general manager of Intel of Canada Ltd. agrees with Warren. He believes Office 2003 will be able to drive hardware and processor upgrade sales starting next year.

“”For three years now businesses have focus on reducing cost. This version of Microsoft Office is a good start in getting businesses back to thinking about productivity,”” Cooper said.

Cooper added that companies are starting to weigh the cost of maintaining their four or five-year old IT infrastructure running Windows 98 against upgrading and figuring out that refreshing their system will be cheaper.

But not everyone shares this optimism.

Joe Wilcox, an analyst at Jupiter Research’s Microsoft Monitor division posted on his company’s Web site that Microsoft’s biggest challenge would be to convince customers using older versions of Office to make the upgrade. Jupiter Research has found that about 90 per cent of businesses are using Office already. Microsoft’s biggest competitor is Microsoft, he said.

Also, Wilcox questioned the timing of the release. With Longhorn, the code name for the next version of Windows expecting to ship sometime in 2006 customers may opt to wait especially those who bought into Software Assurance, which allows customers to pay up-front for upgrades.

According to Wilcox, Microsoft’s biggest opportunity maybe in the small business sector. In his report, the largest part of the market will be businesses with 10 employees or less. Of those 19 per cent don’t use any productivity packages such as Office. Wilcox calculates that market to be worth US$11.5 billion using the retail price of five Office Standard licenses.

Wilcox added that Office 2003 is about the best upgrade ever to come out of Microsoft.

One customer already using Office 2003 said this version of the software productivity package has changed the way it operates.

Brian Ranger, general manager, systems and technology, for PCL Contractors Inc., an Edmonton-based construction company, said this version of Office has transformed his company’s field operation overnight.

In the past, PCL was unable to house an onsite IT facility. With the new version of Office, especially with its collaboration tools, PCL can implement an IT operation that can help schedule work for the crane operator, the bricklayers, the carpenters etc.

“”This is about field level. It is not primarily for the corporation,”” Ranger said about his company’s 1,600 seat plus implementation of Office 2003. “”It is all about the field. They have to go to a job site and set up an IT system along with the crane and everything else. We needed a plug-and-play system that snaps into place,”” Ranger said.

Another user, James Orobko, director, information services for the Fraser Health Authority in Surrey, B.C., said Office 2003 is a lot more than e-mails and making presentations. He’s hoping to use the collaborative features built into Office Systems product such as Sharepoint and InfoPatch to enable “”intelligent workflow”” and to be used for “”mission-critical documents”” all the way from project proposals, to electronic health care records to reports filed by home care nurses.

“”Going paperless is one thing, it’s also about connecting all kinds of users,”” says Orobko. Fraser Health intends to roll out Office Systems first amongst 50 key people, then move it to 2,000 of its knowledge workers and eventually to all 20,000 employees.

It’s also about costs. “”Any costs we can take (out of document costs) can be ploughed back into patient care,”” he says.

Vito Mabrucco, group vice-president, IDC Canada says Fraser Health is a good example of Office Systems being used not only as an office productivity tool but also as an enterprise-type solution, adding that he expects Microsoft to increasingly encroach on areas occupied by document management vendors such as OpenText.

With Files From Martin Slofstra

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