At the Windows Hardware Engineering conference this week, Microsoft officials hinted that the company is readying an online version of the "Watson" automated crash-reporting technology that debuted in Office XP.
In fact, the Redmond software company already is beta testing this technology, via a new portal called Office Online.
Office Online will provide information and help to users of all versions of Office, but be especially tailored to aid Office 2003 users. The site is expected to go live when Microsoft launches Office 2003 later this summer.
Office Online will offer improved context-sensitive help; training-related information (for Office 2003 only); more third-party templates and clip art; and Office-related software downloads from Microsoft and third-party software vendors. It also will provide links to Office chats, newsgroups and community sites, as well as Office-specific columns, such as Crabby Office Lady.
The sub-sites that will comprise Office Online arent brand-new. Instead, they are revamped versions of former Office-related Web content. For example, the new Office Online Marketplace is an updated version of the e-commerce site Microsoft formerly called Office e-services.
By the time Office 2003 launches, Microsoft expects to showcase 40 products and services in its Marketplace, according to company officials. By the end of calendar 2003, the company hopes to provide users with as many as 200 such offerings.
Going forward, Microsoft envisions Office user assistance as a two-way street. When users do a search, check out an Office column, or perform just about any task via Office Online, Microsoft is requesting their feedback. In some cases, its a simple "Was this information helpful? Yes or No" poll. In other cases, Microsoft is requesting more in-depth information about exactly how its assistance did or did not fulfill users expectations.
Microsoft is analyzing this user-supplied feedback with a tool called the AWS Feedback Studio. It plans to use the results to hone its help systems and improve future product releases.