In a chaotic series of events Wednesday, Microsoft Corp. made available to MSDN subscribers the long awaited second beta of Office 11, and then pulled the release shortly thereafter.
The Redmond, Wash., software developer was not expected to begin shipping Office 11 Beta 2 for at least another week, and official testers are normally given early access to such releases as a reward for their hard work. Instead, paying customers and Microsoft partners were given first crack at the new Office, including OneNote and InfoPath.
After inquiries from the press, Microsoft acknowledged Beta 2 was posted to MSDN prematurely and swiftly removed the downloads. Company officials said the release was indeed the final Beta 2 code, but it was not meant to be publicly available at this time due to delays in preparing printed materials.
The posting to MSDN confirmed speculation that Microsoft has christened the new suite "Office 2003." As with most MSDN software, downloads are available for each CD in ISO format. Office discs include Office 2003 Beta 2 MUI Pack, FrontPage 2003 Beta 2, InfoPath Beta 2, OneNote 2003 Beta 2, Publisher 2003 Beta 2, Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager Beta 2, SharePoint Portal Server 2.0 and Windows SharePoint Services 2003 Beta 2.
One highly touted feature new to Beta 2 is junk mail filtering in Outlook. By default, Outlook 2003 examines the content of a message and relocates obvious spam e-mail to a special folder. Users can customize the filter to their liking, and even tell Outlook to instantly delete junk mail.
According to the documentation, "Outlook uses state-of-the-art technology developed by Microsoft Research to evaluate whether a message should be treated as junk e-mail based on several factors, such as the time it was sent and the content of the message."
News of the MSDN release sparked an instant outcry from beta testers who felt snubbed by Microsoft. "Thats really surprising if true," one tester remarked in a post to the Office 11 beta newsgroups.
Microsoft had previously told testers it would not make Office 11 available for download due to its large size, and beta coordinators told eager testers on Tuesday to expect Beta 2 kits by mail in the "coming weeks."
Adding to the confusion, Microsoft has not yet updated its SharePoint Team Services Web site to Beta 2 bits, as it had planned to do before the release. Beta coordinators informed testers the upgrade would occur around February 10.
An official announcement from Microsoft is expected shortly, along with information on a preview program that will enable non-testers to purchase Office 2003 Beta 2 for a small fee. Microsoft plans to ship the final version of Office 2003 by mid-year.