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Old 25-05-2006   #1
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Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Milwaukee, WI
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Microsoft Says Office Launch on Track

Microsoft Corp.'s coming release of its new Office software remains on schedule for the end of the year, a senior executive said yesterday, despite remarks from the chief executive officer suggesting the company's Windows Vista operating system could face still further delay.

After several setbacks, the world's largest software company is in the last test stage of a multiyear, multibillion-dollar mission to create three of the most important products in its history. This week, Microsoft said the second and final test versions of both Windows Vista and Office 2007 were ready. The company also has a new test version of its next-generation server operating system, called Longhorn Server.

Office 2007 -- the productivity software that includes word processing, spreadsheet and PowerPoint applications -- will be released by the end of the year, Antoine Leblond, vice-president of Office program management, said in an interview yesterday. The new version of Office will be optimized for machines running the Vista operating system.

Vista is targeted for release in January and Longhorn for the end of next year. But Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, added a new wrinkle at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, saying Vista could be delayed "a few weeks. . . .

"We are on track for shipping early in the year," he added.

Every delay is significant because the multibillion-dollar Windows franchise is so large that it drives global demand for personal computer hardware and other software. It is also the most lucrative unit within the Redmond, Wash., firm.

Rick Sherlund, an analyst at Goldman Sachs & Co., speculated this month that Vista, which initially was meant to be ready in 2004, may be delayed further into 2007.

"Comments from management indicate that it is a tight schedule and leads us to question if January may be optimistic," he said in a research report on May 15.

He estimates that each month the product is delayed costs Microsoft between $150-million (U.S.) and $200-million in lost revenue.

Vista is the first new Windows operating system for PCs in five years, and Office 2007 has been in development for three years. The challenge for the company today is not only to iron out the last wrinkles of the new software, but to convince the world that it needs to invest time and money in a new operating system and another version of Office productivity software.

Despite better security, reliability and interaction features in the software, sales of upgrade rights have so far proved disappointing, according to Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, an independent consultancy in Kirkland, Wash. "The Windows client division has to tell corporate customers why they want Windows Vista, and why they shouldn't wait until they buy new hardware," he said in a research report.

Mr. Leblond, a 17-year veteran of Microsoft, says company researchers have done their homework, going to corporate customers to find out what they would like in the new version and holding countless focus groups to test different features and designs. Most people today use just a "narrow slice" of the features in current versions of Office. But different individuals use different slices, he said.

The company needs to improve the way people interact with the software so they can easily find the features they need to do their work. The user interface on current versions was done years ago and was never meant to handle the number of features available today, Mr. Leblond said.

"The [old] design is failing us."

The Office development team worked on hundreds of prototypes of new user interfaces before coming up with the face of Office 2007. The new look has replaced menus and toolbars with richer imagery. Microsoft calls the new bar across the top of the screen "the ribbon," for example. Running a mouse along the band produces expandable, visual galleries that let users see and pull down more features as needed.

Microsoft's goal with both Office 2007 and Vista is to make simpler and more intuitive software. A key feature of Vista is letting people find material on their computers more quickly through a keyword search tool that scans almost anything on a PC.

While Microsoft fine tunes its next operating system and package of productivity software, rivals such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. are also adding new features to their own on-line services. The difference is they are rolling them out regularly, one at a time, over the Web, rather than trying to integrate them into one traditional shrink-wrapped product.

Mr. Leblond insists that the more flexible Web services development model won't leave the forthcoming generation of Microsoft products behind and out of date. The company will use Web services to add some features to its products down the road, he said.

And Microsoft is banking on the coming wave of products setting the stage for its development strategy over the next decade. "There's a lot more we can build on the platform," Mr. Leblond said.

Its about time that something is on schedule. Knowing them, later in the year it wont be.
#3 Poster...first Payne than Mudman.
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