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Microsoft Debuts Office Online

As Microsoft prepares for the Oct. 21 launch of the next generation of its Office suite, the company Monday unveiled Office Online, a retooled version of its 'Office Tools on the Web' site which will integrate directly with Office 2003.

Like the highly-popular Office Tools on the Web, Office Online is intended as a comprehensive repository of Microsoft Office user resources. One of the biggest changes, according to Microsoft, is a new live connection that will allow Office 2003 users to access the site's resources directly from within their applications.

"For Office 2003 users, a new benefit is the ability to access the most up-to-date content directly through task panes in the Office System programs so they won't have to leave the document, spreadsheet or PowerPoint deck they are working in to get the information they need, saving time and frustration," said Chris Linnet, group manager of Office Online. "For example, a customer working with pivot tables can ask a question right from Microsoft Excel, and Search will not only return answers to the question, but also training courses -- all in one set of results."

Linnett said Microsoft has committed to updating the site daily, based on customer feedback. He noted that the company has more than 100 staff members dedicated to updating the content and improving the user experience for customers. The site will continue to cater to users of older versions of the Office suite.

"All customers using products dating back to Office 97 will be able to access the information they need through the browser, as they have done in the past," Linnett said. "Previous users will notice that we've migrated all existing content to the new site, and have added volumes of new media and materials as well."

Linnett said the site will make available hundreds of custom templates for all Office programs, as well as a collection of more than 130,000 pieces of clip art, photos, animations and audio files. It also kicks off with more than 50 new self-paced training programs, and Linnett said the team would add courses continually based on customer feedback.

"For IT departments, this means they can focus less on individual training and focus more on business critical tasks," Linnett said. "Office 2003 customers will be able to take advantage of new self-paced multimedia training courses covering all of the Office programs, including practice sessions, right in the programs."

He added that the site will also feature downloads of the most recent Office updates and information about new products.

Office Online is also geared to helping Microsoft's partners, through the new Office Marketplace.

"This is a subsection of Office Online dedicated to providing Office customers with information about products and services from partnering customers outside of Microsoft that will further enhance their Microsoft Office System experience," Linnett said.

"With Tools on the Web, we featured 12 partners who received tens of thousands of referrals per month. With Office Online, the number of partners and tools has already increased 10-fold. So far, the most popular partner services have been a PDF to Word converter, an e-postage add-in, Excel add-ins that add different charting capabilities to Excel, Factiva (business news) research and reference service, and specialized Word templates."