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First Beta Ships for Office 11

Microsoft's Office 11, which will include a major overhaul of the Outlook e-mail client and XML integration across the product line, went into its first beta testing phase this week.

Microsoft expects Office 11 to be available in mid-2003. Current plans call for an attempt to synch the release of the Office suite with the next release of Exchange server, code-named "Titanium."

The last new version of Office was Office XP, which shipped in the spring of 2001. The company has identified the Office suite as an important source of future growth, even as the high-priced suite comes under increasing competition from low-cost and open-source alternatives. In a financial earnings report last week, Microsoft said its Information Worker unit, which includes Office, turned in revenue growth of 26 percent in the financial quarter ended Sept. 30.

Microsoft touts support for standards-based XML as the major selling point of Office 11. The decision enables the exchange of any form of data across heterogeneous systems, platforms and applications, according to Microsoft.

Office 11 will also include features to leverage SharePoint Team Services and Microsoft Messenger for collaboration.

Some of the most interesting changes to Office 11 occur in a new interface for Outlook, which has not been substantially updated for several product cycles.

"The updated Outlook has undergone a significant redesign, increasing the amount of information displayed by more than 40 percent," Microsoft literature contends. "Research has shown that by displaying messages in a newspaper-like format, Outlook will help users read e-mail more quickly."

A new Reading Pane appears on the right-side of the screen, and goes from near the top of the screen to the bottom. Listing e-mail subject lines in a middle pane, also running from top to bottom, gives users a glimpse of more messages at once.

Other enhancements to Office 11 include customizable Search Folders that collect common items, such as messages that have been marked for follow-up; calendar enhancements; and a new message flagging system.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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