Office Beta Eyes SMB

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2003-03-03 Print this article Print

Microsoft is prepping the second beta of Office 2003 with new CRM-type features designed to attract more small and medium-size businesses.

Microsoft Corp. is prepping the second beta of Office 2003 with new CRM-type features designed to attract more small and medium-size businesses, as well as other features to sway enterprises to upgrade.

Beta 2 of Office 2003, the upgrade to Office XP, due by midyear, will include a new feature called Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager, as well as the first incarnations of DRM (digital rights management) in the suite.

Sources familiar with the product said Business Contact Manager, previously code-named Iris and aimed at the SMB market, will let users track clients, create accounts, generate product lists, and track sales and account leads.

"[Its] a nice [customer relationship management]-type solution for small business that plugs in to the Outlook framework," said Joe Eschbach, corporate vice president of Microsofts Information Worker Product Management Group, in Redmond, Wash. "Its a sales-process contact manager solution. It will function as a desktop application and not need other Microsoft server products to work."

The Office team worked with Microsofts Business Solutions team to develop the new tool, which is not designed to compete with third-party contact managers such as Interact Commerce Corp.s Act and FrontRange Solutions Inc.s Goldmine, Eschbach said.

SMBs are a largely untapped market for Microsoft, Eschbach said. No packaging or pricing decisions have been made yet, and Eschbach declined to say if Business Contact Manager will ship as part of Office 2003 and Outlook.

On the enterprise front, Office 2003 Beta 2 will give testers their first view of the DRM technology in the product. "The information rights management solution is one of the most compelling solutions in Office 2003 for enterprises," Eschbach said, adding that this solution will run only in conjunction with the upcoming Windows Server 2003. However, Eschbach said, Beta 2 code will include a trial solution that could be run without Windows Server 2003. Testers can try the feature using Microsoft Passport for validation and authentication. "But longer term, its for enterprises who want it to work inside their intranet and do authentication on a central server," Eschbach said.

While managers may welcome DRM, some systems administrators are less enthusiastic, saying it will add complexity.

"Solutions like this have the potential to create utter chaos," said a systems administrator for a consultancy based in Mountain View, Calif., who requested anonymity. "What happens if someone who put a document under controls gets fired or leaves without sharing his password? What if another person incorrectly applies the controls and is then on leave or unable to be contacted?" Eschbach said a systems administrator could override controls.

On other fronts, Microsoft wants to ensure that the suites file formats give users full access to its XML schemas, which allow "smart documents" to be created in Office 2003. "The goal is not to have another proprietary lock-in schema. The No. 1 push in Office 2003 is user-defined schema," Eschbach said.

Bill Coan, president of Coan and Company Inc., in Hortonville, Wis., whose company develops custom templates and add-ins for corporate users, said, "I expect Office 2003 to support user-defined schemas, which are, by definition, nonproprietary. Five years from now, well ... realize that Office 2003s support for user-defined XML schemas was the biggest change in desktop computing since the mouse."

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Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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