Latest Office politics rile IT managers

Microsoft 's products continue to get cosy. Users wanting optimal performance from Office 2000 had better be prepared to sign on with other key Microsoft products, including Internet Explorer 5.0 and, whenever it becomes available, Windows 2000. The next-generation desktop applications suite relies heavily on IE 5.0 for many of its Internet-enhanced features.

Microsoft 's products continue to get cosy.

Users wanting optimal performance from Office 2000 had better be prepared to sign on with other key Microsoft products, including Internet Explorer 5.0 and, whenever it becomes available, Windows 2000.

The next-generation desktop applications suite -- which Microsoft will release to its biggest customers toward the end of this month, with retail availability set for June 10 -- relies heavily on Explorer 5.0 for many of its Internet-enhanced features.

With the company currently embroiled in a well-publicised antitrust battle with the US federal government, further tightening the link between one of its core products and Explorer comes at a time when many observers feel Microsoft should be minding its browser's manners. And many IT managers are skeptical.

"I think Microsoft is trying to force its way in -- with admittedly better technology, but they're trying to force the issue," said John Carpenter, director of computing and technical services for the Mcdonough School of Business at Georgetown University, in Washington.

An attendee of Microsoft's Office 2000 Deployment conference this week -- an IT manager who asked for anonymity -- said her company did not want to move directly to Explorer 5.0, which was released March 17.

"We're happy with [Explorer 4.01]," the attendee said. "I don't want to roll out the new browser, so it's a question of giving up Web components and discussions, or getting IE 5.0."

Most of the features that require Explorer 5.0 -- which is included in the Office 2000 package, but does not install automatically unless the machine does not have Explorer 3.02 or later already -- pertain to PowerPoint and Web server functionality, such as discussion groups.

"Anything you would want to do with the advanced features for Web collaboration is unavailable unless you use Explorer 5.0," said Rob Enderle, vice president of the Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, California. "Now they've taken the browser as a part of everything, and it gets difficult to hold the same level of browser. They really treat it like it's part of the operating system."

John Duncan, a Microsoft product manager, noted that users of all browsers would benefit from Office 2000's core functionality, but especially those with more up-to-date browsers -- particularly Explorer 5.0, because it embraces Dynamic HTML (DHTML) and Netscape Navigator does not. The later version of Microsoft's browser will simply enhance usage, he said.

"Our major goal is to enable universal viewing, even through older versions of browsers, like Navigator 3.0 and Explorer 3.0," Duncan said. "Using those, you'll still be able to get static Office [documents] on the Web in HTML. If you upgrade the browser technology, you can [take advantage of] new industry standards like [Cascading Style Sheets] and DHTML and provide a higher level of interactivity and fidelity."

Nevertheless, the requirements appear heavy-handed to some.

"We don't want the bigger, trickier version [of Explorer] on the desktops," said another Office 2000 conference attendee, who also requested anonymity. "Or I didn't want it until now. Now I feel like we have to have it, because we're going to Office 2000 in a few months and we want to exploit it fully."

A new feature in Office 2000, Web Components are ActiveX controls for publishing spreadsheets, charts, and databases to the Web. They are not available without Explorer 5.0.

Office 2000 also will lay some groundwork for the adoption of Windows 2000, the next-generation operating system formerly called Windows NT 5.0.

Windows 2000 users will get an "enhanced Office 2000 experience" thanks to its stepped-up support for the operating system's IntelliMirror technology, remote installation capabilities, HTML files, folders management, and Distributed File System.

"You get support for roaming [with Office 2000] using NT 4.0, but using Windows 2000, that roaming usage is enhanced," Microsoft's Duncan said. "You'll get fuller support for different languages [with Windows 2000], but the Windows Installer technology is supported in NT 4.0."

(Cara Cunningham contributed to this article.)

Office-Explorer synergy

Several Office 2000 features require Internet Explorer 5.0.

-- Office Web Components

-- Discussions and other Web Server functions

-- Extended Help features

-- DataPages

-- Enhanced PowerPoint features

(Source: Microsoft Corp.)

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