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Gates Sees Rapid Office Adoption

Will corporate buyers double-dip when Vista and the next version of Office ships later this year? Microsoft hopes so.

Of course Bill Gates told attendees at an Office developer's conference today in Redmond, Wash., that he thinks the majority of people will upgrade both Office 2007 and Vista at the same time.

"We've made Office backwards-compatible so you don't need Vista to run it. But there are a lot of features in Office 2007 that can really take advantage of the Vista experience."

Whatever the features, JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox said corporations are traditionally slow to adopt new software and he doesn't see that changing.

"Just because Bill Gates says something doesn't mean it's going to happen," he said.

Wilcox notes that about 40 percent of big companies in the U.S. and Europe have moved to a licensing model for Office, so they can upgrade whenever they want to.

In the past, many sales of Windows and Office were tied to the purchase of new PCs with the software preloaded. (JupiterResearch and internetnews.com are owned by the same company.)

"Most large businesses are risk-averse when it comes to change," said Wilcox. He added that Vista and the new Office represent a "double whammy" with interface changes in both the OS and apps and new file formats in Office among other changes that are likely to stall broad corporate adoption when the software's released.

For 2005, JupiterResearch estimates more large businesses ran Office 2000 than the newer Office 2003. "And many still use Office 97; that gives you an idea of the corporate adoption curve."

Microsoft is counting on developers to help enhance what already shapes up as Microsoft's most ambitious OS and Office upgrade ever.

The software giant is pushing Open XML as a standard for developers to plug into and extend Office capabilities on the Web.

Gates also noted investments the company is making in the next release of its Visual Studio Tools for Office, code-named Oracs. In total, he said the newly dubbed 2007 Microsoft Office system would be a "major breakthrough" for developers.

The user interface in 2007 Microsoft Office employs a "ribbon" metaphor organized around scenarios like Write and Insert. Tools in the ribbon change depending on what the user is doing.

Contextual Tabs
Contextual tabs in PowerPoint 2007.
Source: Microsoft

For example, inserting a table causes Tools to change its position or color automatically. Microsoft said the system's XML configuration will make it easy for developers to customize the ribbon UI in ways consistent with the original design.

Also, a new application add-in model lets developers create custom add-ins and provides controls designed to be easy for IT staff to manage.

Today Microsoft announced a community technology preview (CTP) release of Visual Studio tools for Office.

The Orcas release is designed to let professional developers use their .NET programming skills to build enterprise-scale business solutions on the 2007 Office platform.

Also in his keynote address, Gates announced the formation of a technical community of developers to exchange information about developing with Open XML Ecma International formats.

Known as the Open XML Formats Developer Group, Microsoft said 39 companies are participating in the Web-based community, including Intel, Apple, BP and Toshiba). Membership is free to developers.

Office 2007 is nearly twice the size as the current Office 2003. A limited technical preview of the next-generation business software suite was released in late December to around 10,000 customers and partners, as well as to attendees of Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference.

Unlike previous versions, the focus of Office has moved from personal productivity to an integrated set of applications, servers and services.

Michael Singer contributed to this report.