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

“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
. 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.

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