Microsoft: Office 2007 released to manufacturing

U.S. and Canadian customers can download it beginning Dec. 1

Microsoft Corp. today confirmed that it has completed work on the system code for Office 2007 and released it to manufacturing.

Customers in Canada and the U.S. can start downloading Office 2007 on Dec. 1. That is one day after the company plans to officially launch the updated productivity suite, along with the Windows Vista operating system and the Exchange Server 2007 communications software in New York.

Customers in another 13 countries will be able to download free, 60-day trial versions "soon" after the beginning of December, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman, who declined to give further details. Those countries will include England, Ireland, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico.

Customers can activate their trial copy of Office 2007 within the first two months by paying for it online or at a retail store. With Office 2003, Microsoft's last Office release, only users in the U.S. and Canada were allowed to download free trials of the software.

Customers won't be able to find Office 2007 on retail store shelves or get it preinstalled on PCs until early 2007, said the spokeswoman. That timetable means Microsoft is missing what many consider to be the key holiday shopping season.

Like Windows Vista, Office 2007 will be available to corporate volume license customers via Web or on CD starting Nov. 30.

Three and a half million people downloaded Beta 2 Technical Refresh of Office 2007, making it the largest Office beta program to date, according to the company. Other users chose to test-drive the suite at Microsoft's Web site using the Internet Explorer Web browser.

A company representative told Computerworld that no new features have been introduced since Beta 2. The company did, however, announce a new service -- SMS Link for Office Outlook 2007 -- that lets Outlook 2007 users send and receive e-mail, contacts, appointments and tasks to mobile phones as SMS text messages.

Office 2007 includes a revamped user interface, greater support for non-English languages and more collaboration tools. It has been marked by controversy over a significantly revamped interface in many of the application's familiar menus and toolbars, which have been replaced with Ribbon, a colorful tabbed bar divided into groups of icons and buttons organized by task. (See "The Lowdown on Office 2007" for an in-depth review and visual tour of the suite's new interface.)

Microsoft praised the quantity and quality of the feedback from beta testers of the software suite. According to Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, "The 2007 Microsoft Office system RTM [release to manufacturing] completes the most significant improvements to the products in more than a decade."

The suite will ship in seven editions. Microsoft Office Basic includes Word, Excel and Outlook and is available only from manufacturers, meaning it will most likely be the version preloaded on new desktops and notebooks. The new Office Home and Student (H&S) version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

OneNote is an organizer that replaces Outlook from the previous Student and Teacher (S&T) edition. Home and Student is expected to sell for $149, though its S&T predecessor recently sold for under $100. Users cannot upgrade to H&S from S&T.

The standard version, which costs $399 -- $239 for an upgrade -- includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook and may be the version most stand-alone, individual home users will purchase. The Small Business edition -- full price, $449, upgrade price $279) includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher, as well as Outlook with Business Contact Manager.

Office Professional, which sells for $499 for the full version and $329 for the upgrade version, takes the Small Business edition and adds Access. The Professional Plus includes Outlook without the Business Contact Manager and adds the InfoPath information-gathering program, the Office Communicator instant messaging program, advanced information rights management and policy capabilities, electronic forms and integrated enterprise content management.

Professional Plus is available only to volume licensees, and pricing has not been released.

New this year is the Ultimate edition. It takes Professional Plus and adds Business Contact Manager to Outlook, as well as Groove collaboration software. The Ultimate edition, however, does not include Communicator. More version information can be found on Microsoft's site.

Individual applications will continue to be available separately; Word, for example, can be purchased alone for $229, or for $109.95 for an upgrade.

The next release of Office will feature 50,000 new help articles, 35 new demos, 24 online training courses and 400 new templates.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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