There's no Madonna jingle to go with the new version of Office, like there was with the launch of Windows XP. Microsoft is singing a different tune: Applications that let people collaborate make people more productive. People who are more productive save time. And time, of course, is money.
That's the essence of the message that Bill Gates put forth to the world from a stage in New York at Tuesday's formal debut of Office 2003. In a time when businesses are staggering to their feet after three long years of punishing economic blows, Microsoft is making a case that companies can get some measurable return on investment for the suite of applications.
In fact, Gates -- Microsoft's co-founder and chief software architect -- attached some specific numbers to his claims about the Office System: End users will save two hours a week, and companies will see payback on the suite in eight months.
Analysts commenting on the highly trumpeted launch say Office 2003 won't drive huge numbers right away because many companies are quite happy with what they've got in Office XP. However, as organizations roll out new projects such as Web services, they may turn to this desktop system for help.
Gates wasn't the only high-profile Microsoft executive on the speaking circuit this week. Chief executive Steve Ballmer traveled to sunny Florida to stump for Microsoft's new security initiative -- and take a poke at Linux. At the Gartner Symposium ITxpo, Ballmer admitted that while Redmond hasn't had a great security track record, it has made significant progress.
He also said that users can trust Microsoft patches because they are created by credentialed developers, whereas Linux code can be "submitted randomly by some hacker in China."
The product news came fast and furious this week. In addition to Office, Microsoft released Exchange 2003 (messaging), SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (collaboration) and Office Live Communications Server 2003 (instant messaging). Also announced was that Systems Management Server 2003, Microsoft's management software platform, had been released to manufacturing. That product is expected to make its formal debut at an IT show on Nov. 11 in Copenhagen.
Microsoft also announced this week that it is opening up its treasured source code to MVPs. That's Redmond's shorthand for "most valuable professionals." These are the folks that the software maker singles out as team players in supporting the Windows community. That's trust. Previously, Microsoft had only made its Shared Source Initiative open to governments, to prove to them that there are no back doors built into the operating system.
In the "oops" department, Microsoft had to clarify public comments made recently by one of its executives. Richard Kaplan, the vice president in charge of Microsoft.com and Windows Update, incorrectly told an audience that a second service pack for Windows XP would be available by the end of this year.
In its latest statement on the subject, Microsoft said that only a beta version of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP will be available this year. A full version of SP2 will be released by the middle of 2004, Microsoft said.
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