Microsoft gave the first public demonstration of its forthcoming Office suite at PC Expo in New York last week, outlining a slew of Web-based collaboration features and improved management.
Beta testing for Office 2000 will begin this July with about 20,000 customers, which is 10 times the usual number. Officials said the upgrade will likely ship in 2000 but possibly in late 1999.
Features in the upgrade focus on Web-based "knowledge management," or sharing documents on an intranet, and easing the upgrade and installation process, officials said.
"We made lowering the total cost of ownership and [easy] upgrades of Office the No. 1 priority for the development team," said Jon DeVaan, vice president of Microsoft's desktop applications division.
HTML will be a "companion format" in Office 2000, allowing end-users to choose a Web server to save a document onto, as an alternative to e-mailing documents to several people. Elements within documents, called Office Web Components, are "live," which means that it is possible to click on the edit button in the browser to launch Excel, for example, to let the user modify the document and save it back in HTML. Microsoft is also supporting the OLE DB database protocol.
Users at the demonstration were cautiously impressed with the new version.
"The collaborative tools look real interesting -- the ability to move in and out of Office and HTML," said Bruce Gitlin, director of corporate alliances at Xerox, in Rochester, New York. "The challenge will be how well does it work."