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Tech Beta of Office '12' Released

Microsoft announced the long-awaited debut of the Office "12" technical beta, a limited release that will go out to 10,000 selected customers and partners globally.

In a statement posted late Wednesday, Microsoft officials characterized the upcoming Office 12 as the “most significant release of Office in more than ten years.” (See “10 Key Elements of Office 12,” September 26, 2005)

The technical beta is a precursor to wide-spread beta testing of the desktop productivity suite, which the company says is on tap for next spring. As in previous major Windows releases, the newest version of Office is set to complement the release of the newest version of Windows -- Windows Vista. Office 12 is scheduled to ship sometime in the second half of next year, and Vista is due out for Christmas 2006.

The company began lifting the veil on the update in September at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC). Office 12 will sport a radically redesigned user interface meant to simplify use by hiding all but the most “relevant” functions.

One new UI technology is called "ribbons," where users will go to find all authoring commands, replacing many task panes, menus and toolbars. Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint will feature the new “streamlined” UI, while Outlook will use it when authoring e-mail messages or setting up meetings. Unlike Office 2003, users will not be able to revert to choosing a “classic” UI mode.

Also at the PDC, Microsoft unveiled the Windows Workflow Foundation, which it described as a workflow engine, programming model and set of tools for developers. Workflow capabilities will be integrated inside Office system applications to bring together document management, records management and Web content management in an effort to enable enterprise content management.

Among other new and enhanced features, Office 12 will save documents natively in XML as the default format. It will also support Microsoft’s new “Metro” format meant to compete with Adobe’s popular Portable Document Format (PDF), and will also save to PDF as well.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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