Microsoft Rings Up Watson for Office Portal

Microsoft Corp. is working on a new user-assistance portal for its Office productivity suite that will build on the company's crash-reporting technology.

Microsoft Corp. is working on a new user-assistance portal for its Office productivity suite that will build on the companys crash-reporting technology.

At WinHEC in New Orleans last 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, Wash., software developer already is beta testing this technology via a new portal called Office Online.

Office Online will provide information and help users of all versions of Office but will be especially tailored to aid Office 2003 users. The site is expected to go live when Microsoft launches Office 2003 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 will also provide links to Office chats, newsgroups and community sites, as well as Office-specific columns, such as Crabby Office Lady.

The subsites that will constitute Office Online arent new. Instead, they are revamped versions of former Office-related Web content. For example, the new Office Online Marketplace is an updated version of Microsofts e-commerce site, formerly known as 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 the year, the company hopes to provide users with as many as 200 such offerings.

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 will request feedback. In some cases, it will be a simple poll asking, "Was this information helpful? Yes or No." In other cases, Microsoft will request more in-depth information about exactly how its assistance did or did not fulfill users expectations.

Microsoft will analyze this user feedback with a tool called AWS Feedback Studio. It plans to use the results to hone its help systems and improve future product releases.