Office 97 to include new Desktop Manager, help guides

Microsoft's application suite update will include new versions of Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint.

The Office 97 package scheduled for release by Microsoft in the fourth quarter of this year will include new versions of Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint, and will feature a new desktop information manager called Outlook. Also due for worldwide release in the fourth quarter is Office Family, which consists of new versions of Publisher and FrontPage, according to Robbie Bach, vice-president of marketing for desktop applications at Microsoft, who spoke to IDG editors on late last week. All the applications in the Office products can be bought separately.

The beta of Office 97 will be available in the next week or so, and localised versions in French, German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Swedish will follow the release of the English version by 30 to 45 days, Bach says.

Among the new features in the applications suite are new visual styles and simplified table creation in Word 97; enhanced charting in Excel 97; and tools to create hyperlinks between documents within the individual Office 97 applications and with the Internet. This will enable users to connect to the World Wide Web from within an application, type a URL (uniform resource locator) and have it automatically become a hyperlink.

Outlook, which will ship in all editions of Office Standard and Office Pro, replaces Schedule Plus in Office and will eventually be ported to the Macintosh, according to Bach. Outlook unifies and organises users' email, schedules, contacts, tasks, forms and journal and is integrated with other applications in Office. The program also is compatible with Exchange and offers native Internet mail via POP3/SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) for users without Exchange.

Outlook users can change their email views, create custom views, flag messages and recall messages before the recipient reads them. The journal application displays a chronology of documents and projects by date. Meanwhile, data can be linked between the different areas and users can combine command bars and tool bars for a more customised interface.

The personalised guide, which can be turned off, responds in text to users' typed questions, automatically offers tips and reminders, and otherwise helps with use of the applications. Users can choose from a group of guides with different characteristics, including one that looks like Albert Einstein and one that is a red, smiley-faced, bouncing ball.

Bach says that the guides were developed using code from the intelligent agent-type guide featured in Bob, Microsoft's desktop environment interface designed for novice users that has faded into oblivion after poor sales.

Microsoft also will sell a new mouse, dubbed the Intellimouse, that will work with Office 97 and Internet Explorer 3.0. It has the features of a traditional mouse but includes a roll button on the top that customers can use to scroll around the screen.

Meanwhile, an Office Resource Kit includes setup and administration tools to help users install and manage Office 97. Microsoft also has developed Web-based plug-ins and new controls for Office 97 and has created links in Office 97 to the Microsoft Help Web site.

In addition, Microsoft has announced that next year Windows NT will include plug-and-play capabilities and that common device drivers will be available for Windows 95 and Windows NT. In addition, a personal Web server for Windows 95 is being developed, possibly as part of an Internet Explorer starter kit or in Internet Explorer Plus, says Collins Hemingway, director of industry partner and international marketing for Microsoft's desktop business systems division.

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