Microsoft Tweaks Office Brand with “.NET” Version

Software giant Microsoft Monday unveiled a bit of detail surrounding its new version of Microsoft Office — and revealing a new spin on some old positioning.

Known to the development community as “Office 10,” the latest version of Microsoft Office will be marketed as “Office XP,” which will run on Microsoft’s upcoming “Windows XP” platform, and is scheduled to be distributed in mid-2001.

That “XP” designation stands for “experience” — specifically, a good one. And that’s exactly what Microsoft hopes users will think of the new Office.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company said Office XP’s tools for Web- based collaboration and connectivity with mobile devices, would create a “rich” and “exciting ” relationship between product and user. Ultimately, that relationship will “deliver exciting new experiences for people at home and at work,” according to press statements released by the company.

“The coming generation of Windows XP and Office XP will enable customers to communicate and collaborate more effectively, be more creative and productive, and have more fun with technology,” said Microsoft co-founder, chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates in a statement. “These breakthrough versions of Windows and Office will give people the most powerful end-to-end computing experiences ever available … This evolution from applications to experiences starts with Windows XP and Office XP.”

That’s something of a change from Office 2000, the product’s last full release. In its June 1999 release, Microsoft positioned Office 2000 as high-performance software that makes business more efficient — a “business productivity suite.”

The marketing behind Office 2000’s launch focused a great deal on its Web-based collaborative tools, similarly to Office XP. But instead of promising a warm, fuzzy user-product relationship, Office 2000 was promoted as software that “revolutionizes the way people work.”

“Office 2000 is being designed to help customers get better results by turning their information into more of an asset,” read press materials for the previous product. “Office 2000 is the desktop suite that will make the Web work for its users, streamlining the process of working with people and information to provide better results.”

But by dropping language that highlights business productivity as Office XP’s chief consumer proposition, in favor of kinder, gentler positioning, Microsoft seems keen on easing consumers’ and businesses’ adjustment to some sizable changes.

Specifically, the new Office is a cornerstone in Microsoft’s “.NET” line of products — which will hinge more on tighter integration with the Web and across platforms, and most importantly, on a fairly radical subscription-based pricing system. Microsoft executives have said publicly that .NET products will begin a move away from traditional software “products” and more to a “service” model, that users pay for via subscription.

But whether Office’s business and consumer customers embrace Microsoft’s move from “applications” and “business productivity suite” to full-fledged “experiences” remains in question. Several earlier “lifestyle” products, like Microsoft Bob, were dramatic flops. And its Windows CE mobile computing platform, designed to promote cross-OS compatibility, failed to catch on and was essentially relaunched last year as Pocket PC.

Those past problems were compounded by some high-profile Web site gaffes last month, which caused several analysts to question the wisdom of moving forward with its new .NET product positioning.

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