Office 2003 Bids for Small Biz

A key customer for Microsoft's Office System 2003, due this week, will be the small-business user.

When Microsoft Corp. announces this week the availability of its latest Office productivity upgrade, known as Office System 2003, a key target customer will be the small-business user.

The Redmond, Wash., company has already signed up some large enterprises as Office 2003 customers, including American Management Systems Inc., Graphic Packaging International Corp., Honeywell International Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Virgin Entertainment.

But Kurt DelBene, corporate vice president for the Office Server Group, said that with this release, Microsoft is more focused than ever on the small-business space. As part of that effort, the company concentrated on making the user experience with Office 2003 as familiar as possible to reduce complexity and training.

Microsoft also focused on building in "best of breed" collaboration and support for online meetings, as well as deep integration with the client around core scenarios such as document collaboration.

Some enterprise users approve of the plan. Donald Hirsch, vice president of IT at AMS, in Fairfax, Va., said his company is deploying SharePoint Portal Server 2003, Windows SharePoint Services and Project Server but will migrate its staff to the entire Office suite later this year.

AMS, a global business and IT consulting group with 6,500 employees, 4,500 of whom are consultants, was looking for a next-generation collaboration environment, given the need for its mobile work force to have access to information wherever and whenever needed.

The company started deploying SharePoint Portal Server under Microsofts Joint Development Program three months ago, after evaluating a dozen or so products.

"We then narrowed that down to about three, and we did some rigorous evaluations of those other products," Hirsch said. "While we are a pretty strong Microsoft shop, and that was a factor in our decision as it integrates so well with the rest of the Office suite and is familiar to us, it was just easier to use and could be deployed more rapidly than the other contenders on our short list—which had back-end and user complexity."

Other users dont intend to upgrade any time soon. Some small and midsize businesses say they plan to upgrade only when they replace their hardware, and some are even reluctant to do it then.

Michael Hollander, MIS administrator for Pacific Communications Group, in Torrance, Calif., is one such customer.

"We run Office at work, and I use it at home, but when I went to order our next computer upgrade from Dell [Inc.]—we replace a machine every other month—it came with only the choice of Office 2003, which, of course, means that were going to have to train someone on the new software," he said.

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