Microsoft Releases Office XP Service Pack

Microsoft has released the first service pack for Office XP--essentially a collection of all the bug fixes it has released and been working on since the product hit the shelves on May 31.

Microsoft Corp. has released the first service pack for Office XP--essentially a collection of all the bug fixes it has released and been working on since the product hit the shelves on May 31.

The Redmond, Wash., company said the updates focus primarily on providing improvements in three key areas: security, performance and stability. "SP-1 combines a variety of updates into one integrated package, including both previously released and new updates," Office XP spokesman Nicole von Kaenel told eWEEK Thursday.

Microsoft "highly recommends that all Office XP users download SP-1 to take advantage of the significant security, stability and performance improvements associated with it," she said, noting that all future updates to Office XP will require that SP-1 be installed.

Among the security updates included are those that address macro-security vulnerabilities, which had allowed malicious code to run in Excel, PowerPoint and Word, as well as those dealing with Outlook view control vulnerability, von Kaenel said.

Stability fixes include an update to address stability issues in PowerPoint when using custom bullets and an update to Outlook that addresses the issues of users not being notified when their PSTs ae full, she said.

On the performance side, updates include MSN Messenger integration with Outlook, e-mail performance when an Office document is attached, expanding Office XP application performance on Windows XP and the ability to publish SharePoint Team Services sites from one server to another using FrontPage.

Members of Microsoft Select, MSDN and TechNet programs will receive SP-1 as part of their regularly scheduled mailings.

Von Kaenel cautioned that individuals within an organization should check with their IT administrator before installing this update.

The Office XP SP-1 also includes the SharePoint Team Services site-migration tool, which will help users migrate to Microsofts Web-based SharePoint Team Services technology. SharePoint Team Services is essentially a team Web site in a box.

As Microsoft continues to move toward its .Net platform, it is increasingly focusing on a subscription-based, service model. This was evidenced in May when Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates launched Office XP--perhaps the last such launch of a fully packaged desktop suite.

At that time Gates actively touted the SharePoint Team Services and smart tags found in the XP product, both of which he says are basic Web services and .Net features.

But, while there is much talk about the .Net and Web services nature of its product, there is also a paucity of information about Microsofts Office plans going forward. When the product was launched, Lisa Gurry, then an Office product manager, told eWEEK that the full .Net platform was still a ways away and would play out over the next two to five years. But a Web and subscription offering would form part of the next version of Office, she said.

Von Kaenel declined to comment on this, saying the company has not decided on any specifics around how the next version of Office would be delivered.

Microsoft President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Belluzzo also told eWEEK at launch time that the plans for the next version of Office, believed to be its Office .Net offering, were still being defined.

"Maybe youve seen some of the demos of NetDocs [Microsofts single integrated application that includes e-mail, personal information management, digital media managing and instant messaging]. Were going to have a lot of technology to talk about and how we deliver more of a Web-based set of productivity tools," he said.

"Those plans will take shape now that this release is complete. We really will focus in on a .Net type of Office release, and youll be hearing more about that as our plans become a little more firm," he said.

The 400-odd-member NetDocs team was moved under the Office umbrella early this year.

But Office XP has "really started the drive to provide more services-based features with things like SharePoint and smart tags that are able to link and deliver service information within the shrink-wrapped product.

"I think youll continue to see that with probably more emphasis on some of those services over time, but youll continue to see a lot of innovation and continued improvement in the base product," Belluzzo said.

Office XP has the capability, with SharePoint Services, to be able to publish information easily onto a Web site and basically create a customized Web site for collaborating. This is one way of extending a traditional product into a services-based environment. Smart tags are able to link information to other services and Web sites intelligently into documents to provide a more complete experience, he said.

Von Kaenel confirmed that the next version of Office will have greater Web integration, additional collaboration and further advances on the messaging front. The first beta is expected to be released "sometime next year," with the final product shipping in early 2003.

While Microsoft has said it will be offering Office XP under subscription, that initiative is currently only active in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. "This has been well-received and successful in those countries, but I do not have a timetable for its rollout to other countries, including the United States," she said.