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A Group Effort in Microsoft Office

Microsoft plans to boost collaboration and content management in the next version of its Office productivity software, which includes the popular Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications.

Noting that the world is shifting from manufacturing to service-based offerings, Microsoft Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said it is becoming increasingly important for workers to collaborate across remote offices and time zones.

This is why Microsoft is planning significant changes in Office 12 to help workers adapt to today's "always on, always connected" computing environments, Gates said in a keynote at the company's ninth annual Microsoft CEO Summit. The theme for the two-day event is "Pathways to Growth -- New World of Work."

"Today's companies thrive when their employees can effectively collaborate, visualize and act on business intelligence and prioritize scarce time and resources," Gates said. "To adapt and succeed in the 'New World of Work' today and tomorrow, they need advanced tools that will help them make the most of their unique talents, experiences and judgment."

These plans include better collaboration and enterprise content management for Office 12, which corporate workers use to perform several business tasks from their personal computers, according to Chris Capossela, Microsoft corporate vice president.

The executive said Office 12 will have tighter integration between phones, Web portal sites, instant messaging and e-mail to improve the way workers share information, Capossela said on the company's Web site.

"We're also addressing the IT complexity that comes with enabling collaboration over corporate boundaries by making it easier to set up and use shared workspaces in Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server," Capossela said.

To help with this, the information worker product group responsible for Office will use peer-to-peer collaboration capabilities from the company's recent purchase of Groove Networks.

Groove's software will use the Internet to help a company using Office 12 to share information and track issues with a partner outside of the corporate firewall.

Capossela also said there will be greater emphasis on viewing data. For example, engineers are revamping Office Excel to let users create visual dashboards and scorecards directly from the data within their spreadsheets. Users will then be able to share that business intelligence in an Office SharePoint portal site for others to view and use.

Rather than trying to analyze data from several spreadsheets "floating around in e-mail," companies can gain a single, up-to-the-minute view of their information, he said.

Microsoft also plans to help users manage content inside an organization using Office 12. In one scenario, organizations will be able to define expiration and archival policies for the content to meet compliance and record-retention standards.

Office 12 will also work easier with XML, allowing a company's sales team to pull data from their customer relationship management system without ever leaving the Office interface through Microsoft's InfoPath forms.

Office 12 will be available in the second half of calendar year 2006. The first beta test is expected this fall.