Microsoft Unveils Office 2003 Beta 2
Microsoft is growing its Office. With the release this week of Beta 2 of the next version of the popular productivity suite, Microsoft unveils first cuts of two new members of the Office family: OneNote, for electronic note-taking; and InfoPath, to create XML documents.
Microsoft has not yet revealed the composition or pricing of any Office
2003 Suite (the company is calling its collection of applications and services
the Office "System"). However,
The company expects to distribute about 500,000 copies of Beta 2, and is offering it publicly through its TechNet site and an Office preview site, Marks says. Office 2003 requires either Windows XP or Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3.
New features in the works include Business Contact Manager, an Outlook add-on intended for small-business users who want more-powerful tools for customer relationship management (CRM) but don't need a more sophisticated and expensive multiuser app such as Act or Goldmine.
The add-on is particularly designed to sort and manage sales contacts. For example, you can link contact lists to Outlook entries and to documents in other Office applications, such as Publisher, so as to create custom forms or marketing materials, Marks says. Some versions of Outlook will be bundled with Business Contact Manager, he adds.
Beta 2 of Outlook offers spam-filtering features designed to help reduce
inbox clutter, similar to the antispam technology
Microsoft is also adding Information Rights Management technology (also
XML support is enhanced throughout the Office System, notably in Word.
The new application that may have the widest appeal is OneNote. Unveiled
You can work on blank pages, or you can use stationery such as graph paper. You can easily move notes around, or insert them between other notes.
And you can flag notes--for example, to identify those requiring follow-up--or expound upon them using an audio recorder feature that links your comments with whatever you're writing at the moment (and later retrieve the recording by clicking on a small icon next to the note). Can't remember where you put a note? Simply move the cursor over the page markers to browse through your pages on the fly. It's much faster than opening and closing Word documents, for example.
When used on a portable device running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, OneNote offers a wealth of digital ink features including the capability to create searchable handwritten notes. Whatever supported operating system you have, OneNote automatically preserves whatever you scribble or type; there's no need to click on Save.
One missing OneNote feature: support for basic drawing tools such as those you get with Word. Mousing a simple square or circle isn't easy. The application doesn't create an index of your notes to speed up keyword searches (Microsoft says it should be fast enough without indexing).
Microsoft hasn't yet said whether it will include OneNote in any final version of the Office suite when it ships this summer, nor how much it would cost as a stand-alone application. The same goes for InfoPath, a program that more squarely targets enterprise users who need to gather data for an XML database.
Other core Office apps--Word, Excel, and Access--as well as Office family members Visio and FrontPage can also interface with XML data sources. But InfoPath's specialty is basically the type of data gathering traditionally done by electronic forms. The difference is that InfoPath is far more flexible. For example, a résumé form with five fields for jobs would not be able to accommodate a sixth job; with an InfoPath résumé form, a user could easily add more jobs.
InfoPath also supports conditional formatting, the capability to format data differently depending on how it measures up to user-defined parameters. For example, an InfoPath sales report could be designed so that sales falling below quota would show up in red, while sales that meet or exceed quota would appear in black.