Microsoft provides sneak preview of new Office 2000 suite

NEW YORK— Microsoft Corp. gave a sneak preview of the next version of its Office suite of productivity applications at last week's PC Expo in New York, in an event that was just like going to the movies— right down to the tuxedoed ushers, the popcorn and the performance of the Microsoft officials.

Jon DeVaan, vice president of the company's Desktop Applications Division, "directed" the presentation, which included a film with actors hired to play the parts of villains and heroes, who concluded the story with their own testimony to the attributes of Office.

The audience of about 500 seemed pleased to hear DeVaan announce that Microsoft plans to release an early beta version of Office 2000 in July to more than 20,000 testers.

That compares with the beta release of Office 97— the current version of the software featuring Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint applications— which went out to only a few hundred testers, said Matthew Price, group product manager.

With DeVaan commanding "action" and "cut," two Microsoft colleagues demonstrated Office 2000's World Wide Web-based knowledge management functions, which allow the use of the Internet for Web-based collaboration.

Hypertext Markup Language will become a companion file format to make posting a document to the Web as easy as saving it to a hard drive and to give documents a Web-like look and feel, according to Microsoft. Users will be able to add tables and links to discussion threads, turning them into Web pages posted to a server rather than an e-mail message. Once on the server, other members of a workgroup can comment on the document. Feedback and idea sharing become more lively and coherent, officials said.

The audience groaned when DeVaan announced that documents created in Office 97's Access software will not be compatible with Office 2000 because of the added Unicode support.

"We made lowering the total cost of ownership and [easy] upgrades of Office the No. 1 priority for the development team," DeVaan said. Documents written in Office 97 will be supported, but whether they can win an Oscar remains to be seen.

Microsoft was also busy at PC Expo talking about the forthcoming release of a new addition to its Windows NT 4.0 Server products: the Windows Server Terminal Edition.

The software allows organizations to run Windows applications on a centralized Windows NT server rather than running a copy on every desktop. That scenario makes it possible to put stripped-down, inexpensive computers on the desktop rather than full-blown PCs.

Developed jointly by Microsoft and Citrix Systems Inc., the software is expected to be available by July for a price of $1,129.

During the show, Citrix also announced the general availability of its MetaFrame thin client/server system software for multiuser Windows NT 4.0 environments. MetaFrame extends Windows NT Server 4.0 Terminal Server Edition, adding more client/server functionality, a Citrix official said.

MetaFrame improves on Citrix's existing WinFrame product by making the software Windows 4.0-compatible and by ensuring that applications can be administered across multiple servers from a single location.

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