Microsoft Ships Office 2003 Beta 2

Microsoft is distributing the release to some 500,000 customers and partners for testing.

Microsoft Corp. on Monday formally announced the release of the second beta for its Office 2003 family of products, which is known by the code name Office 11 and is the upgrade to Office XP.

That beta comes only days before Sun Microsystems Inc. releases the first beta of StarOffice 6.1 and follows last weeks release of Corel Corp.s first beta of WordPerfect Office 11, which is expected to be available in North America late next month.

Microsoft on Monday said it will be distributing the second beta to some 500,000 customers and partners globally to begin testing. The company has also provided a Web site where interested parties can find more detail about Office 2003 and the other system components.

This beta contains, for the first time, new CRM (customer relationship management)-type features designed to attract more small and medium-size businesses (SMBs), as well as other features to sway enterprises to upgrade. It includes 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 CRM-type solution for small business that plugs into the Outlook framework," Joe Eschbach, corporate vice president of Microsofts Information Worker Product Management Group, told eWEEK recently. "Its a sales-process contact manager solution. It will function as a desktop application and not need other Microsoft server products to work."

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, Beta 2 code will include a trial solution that can 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," he said.

The second beta also includes the Office 2003 suite, comprising Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access and two new applications—OneNote and InfoPath—as well as FrontPage, Publisher, Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server 2.0.

The final versions of the product are expected this summer, according to Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., company previously said the product would be released by the end of June. Pricing and details on which products will be included in which SKU and which will have to be bought as separate add-ons were not disclosed.

The release of the second beta provides an infrastructure and platform that enables Microsoft business partners to build the next generation of information worker solutions that incorporate collaboration and portal capabilities and improved desktop tools, Eschbach said.

Microsoft, in line with its goal of ensuring that its products maximize the use of other company products, pointed out that its upcoming Windows Server 2003 product will play a complementary role with the Office family of products, as will Windows SharePoint Services, which is the engine for creating Web sites that enable information sharing and document collaboration. This infrastructure will be delivered in Windows Server 2003.

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