How Not to Release
a Beta"> Introduction Blues In Word 12, Microsoft has given me a very nice tool that I am using to write a column that will now complain a bit about how Word 12, and the rest of Office 12, were released last week.In 20 years of writing about Microsoft, I have never seen a product introduction or beta program handled as poorly as the Office 12 beta release.My impression is that the Office 12 team didnt give themselves enough time to get the beta released properly, though what pressure they were under to release at any particular moment I dont know. I also get the strong impression that people at Microsoft werent talking to one another, or that decisions as to what products to include in the beta were made very late in the game. For example, two weeks ago I was told that FrontPage 12 didnt exist, yet there it is available for beta testers to download. Im a FrontPage user, so I care about what happens to the program more than most people would. I was told FP was being replaced by something based on a technology Microsoft is calling "Expressions." It turns out that downloading "FrontPage 12" loads something called "SharePoint Designer," which looks like a cross between FP as we know it and Visual Studio. Thats probably what a next-generation Web-dev package needs to be, but I hope FP doesnt become too complex for non-developers to use.
I was also led to believe that Beta 1 was about the client, and the new Office servers wouldnt appear until Beta 2, some time early next year. But guess what else is available for downloading? You guessed it, servers. The servers may or may not still be covered by my nondisclosure agreement, and I havent been able to play with them regardless, so Ill leave that topic, at least for now.
It didnt help that the beta release, originally scheduled for Monday, was delayed until Wednesday night. Once the decision to delay was made, Microsoft might have been better off holding for an entire week rather than launching before things were right.
It appears that setting up the online beta distribution, something Microsoft does routinely, was more of a challenge that it should have been.
In this case, however, beta testers got access before the media embargo was scheduled to lift. They started talking about it, apparently on Weblogs and in e-mail, which ended the embargo rather suddenly. The next time someone tells me Microsoft is a well-oiled machine, Ill tell them this story.
Does a flawed introduction take anything away from Office 12? No, it doesnt. I think the decision to upgrade will, for many companies, be based more upon the servers than the client software. The clients Ive used are quite nice, but the important functional improvements come from the new Office servers that Ive yet to really see in action.
Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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