RealTime IT News

Office Goes to Work in the Enterprise

NEW YORK -- In the biggest product launch in the company's history, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates on Tuesday rolled out the Microsoft Office System and immediately did his best to address the greatest challenge the Redmond, Wash., software giant faces -- convincing the 400 million worldwide users to upgrade to the Microsoft Office 2003 System.

"Today we are introducing more software products on a single day than any day in our history," Gates told the overflow crowd in the auditorium of the Millennium Broadway Hotel.

In a presentation entitled "Great Moments at Work," Gates and Microsoft Group Vice President Jeff Raikes described the launch as a major milestone in the company's history since Word and Excel were first bundled together into the Office Suite in 1990. And, as Gates said, if anyone ever needs evidence of Microsoft customer-centric approach to software development, all one simply needs to do is point to the evolution of Word, the word processing software that Microsoft first unveiled in the 1980s.

In its eleventh version, Microsoft Office System has been broken out into six editions that lets customers pick and choose from 11 different products, four servers and so-called Solution Accelerators that help them use the software suite in a variety of industry-specific ways.

"So this software tool can do more to improve productivity than any other thing on the planet," Gates said. "In fact, part of our optimism about the rest of this decade -- productivity growth and economic results -- comes because we think people are now underestimating these advances.

"In the 90s, there was a lot of hype. People in some ways overestimated how quickly information technology can drive the economy forward. Today we see the opposite of that. We see people not really increasing how much more there is to do," he said.

Those remarks underscore Microsoft's greatest challenge: more so than convincing customers to relax their IT budgets, Microsoft needs to get the information workers to re-engineer their work processes and get them to think how they can use desktop software to work together.

"Collaboration is the theme of this release. How do you share information?" Gates asked adding, "e-mail attachments have real limitations."

With case studies from customer testimonials like Siemens , which is Microsoft's largest deployment of Office 2003 to date, and demonstrations from Nick Stillings, a business productivity advisor at Microsoft, Gates and Raikes pushed the collaborative features of Office's newer components: SharePoint, Live Meeting and the Real-Time Collaboration tool previously known as "Greenwich" and Microsoft Project and its server-side counterpart.

"So what's the next frontier? Well, the next frontier is what is driven by this Office release. And that's the idea of people working together more effectively. That's the theme of the release we have today. Every one of these products is about sharing information and collaborating. We are far short of what is possible there," Gates explained.

To get to this point, the Office development team has concentrated most of its resources on XML , the standards-based schema that tags data for use in disparate systems. But with features such as Microsoft's Rights Management Service (RMS), an ASP.NET Web service built on the Microsoft .NET Framework to control content access, Microsoft is also trying to lock in users into the various components of its Web services stack. To this end, Microsoft has faced a number of critics from analysts to end-users alike.

To be sure, Microsoft contends that it is taking those XML and Web services standards and building them into Office. And that transforms Office from a client-side tool into a combination of client/server technologies used in a platform on which solutions can be built.

"The old adage is that 'speed kills' but I think we know in this kind of business environment, the lack of speed kills," said Raikes, who helms the company's Information Worker Product Management Group and reports in directly to CEO Steve Ballmer.

"In today's business environment, it's clearly one of survival of the fittest. And when it comes to software and it comes to this issue of good enough, in my view the metaphor I have in my mind is: should a company accept a grade of C or D? Or should they make a small investment necessary to have the A+ tools for their customers?" Raikes concluded.

Thanks to XML, information workers using new modules like OneNote and InfoPath can turn notes and other forms of data into actions, which in turn speeds up workflow for greater efficiencies or shortens cycle times that have been long defined by extremely structured ERP solutions, Raikes said in his portion of the presentation.

"I hope you'll see as you look at the breadth of the things we've done and the way they fit together that this is something that there is a single architectural approach. There's a view of the products working together and using an approach -- the web services approach -- to let integration be at a very different level than ever before," Gates said in summary.