Pen, Voice, Tablets Push Office to New Paths
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA--A Microsoft executive gave a brief peek at Office 11 here Monday, and said the suite is quickly moving beyond desktop applications to include Web services and more collaboration tools, as well as playing on new platforms that use alternate input devices.
Modern office applications and services will invite input via pen and voice, as well as function on very portable platforms, said Jeff Raikes, group vice president of productivity and business services. He described some of Microsoft's current projects at the Silicon Valley Speaker Series here.
Small businesses are the target for many of the new technologies, Raikes said. He expects sales by Microsoft Business Solutions, which aims its applications at small and midsize businesses, to hit $10 billion ten years from now. Small and midsize businesses use more PCs and employ more people than do large corporations, he said.
"By 2010, you won't pick a doctor, a lawyer, a building contractor unless you can electronically communicate with them, conduct electronic billing and payment, and other services," he said. "I think the world will change dramatically in the next ten years for small and medium-size businesses because of this upcoming new generation of information workers, who have this expectation that this is the way it should be."
The next college graduates will have a decade of Internet experience when they enter the workforce, he noted. "They will expect digital tools, a broadband interface, instant messaging to communicate with their colleagues."
Microsoft plans to be ready to supply them with collaborative tools and online services, building on existing applications like Office, Raikes said.
Improving on-screen readability is a priority, largely to boost
"We think people will do a lot more reading on-screen in the near future," Raikes said. Paper is still more readable, but as Microsoft pushes resolution to 133 dots per inch and refines on-screen text with its Clear Type technology, people will be more apt to read long documents in electronic form, he said.
Running on the tablet PCs will be Windows XP Tablet Edition, and versions of Office applications enhanced for that platform through the Office XP Add-On Pack, Raikes said.
An optimized version of PowerPoint accepts handwritten notes and highlighting--entered using pen input, just as people now might mark up a printout of a slide show. And the version of Outlook for the tablet PC will accept "ink mail," or handwritten notes input by pen and dropped into e-mail messages.
Software developers are accommodating alternate input, Raikes said. He gave a preview of a Franklin Covey calendar program, codeveloped with Agilix, that accepts input by keyboard or pen and graphically resembles a standard desktop organizer on the screen. Pen entries are searchable based on handwriting recognition.
Raikes expects people will adopt electronic documents quickly, especially in work environments, once they're more readable because they are also easier to annotate, index, and analyze.
But he charges that competing suites are stuck on the desktop. "Sun will claim with StarOffice they're working on this, but they're working on just a piece and not trying to advance the state of the art," he said. Raikes says Microsoft plans to spend $3 billion in the next five years researching how to enhance Office services with new platforms, connectivity, and input devices.
Microsoft also continues to develop voice recognition technology, which now lags pen input.
"The accuracy isn't exactly where you'd want to be," Raikes said. "We are continuing to improve." He said new applications will use a combination of voice, keyboard, mouse, and pen input for more effective communications.