REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 20, 2003 — Enabling people to work smarter, faster and better together are a few of the benefits Microsoft envisioned for businesses and individuals when creating the new Microsoft Office System, which makes its much-anticipated debut Tuesday.
The release of the new Office System marks an important evolution from stand-alone desktop applications to an integrated, comprehensive toolset connecting people, information and business processes through XML Web services. The system, which incorporates familiar programs, servers, services and solutions, is designed to enhance overall productivity and make it easier for information workers to obtain the information they need, when they need it.
PressPass spoke with Joe Eschbach , corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management Group, about the forthcoming Office System, about the impact it will have on today’s information workers and business practices, and what kind of return on investment customers can expect from deploying it.
PressPass: Why should organizations using earlier versions of Microsoft Office care about the new Microsoft Office System?
Eschbach: In today’s competitive business climate, companies are very cautious about their investments. They look for technology that will provide them with the best return on their investment. Cost is a big consideration. But we know from talking to our customers that companies can’t solve today’s business problems with yesterday’s technology. Thanks to the advent of the Internet, the issues facing companies today aren’t the same as those companies faced in 1997. With the new Office System, we really think we’ve got a set of products and technologies that allow our customers to operate more efficiently and generate more top line revenue for themselves. They need tools that will allow them to collaborate more quickly, to streamline business processes by bringing data from where analysis is done like in Microsoft Excel — to back-end systems. It’s not just about creating documents anymore.
PressPass: Do you really think this new Office System will sell?
Eschbach: We had about 600,000 beta testers, many of whom are reporting a great return on investment so far, saving time and money in areas like document creation, employee productivity and team collaboration. About 12,000 of those early adopters ordered the beta kit the first week it was available. That’s equal to the total number of people who downloaded the beta kit the entire time Microsoft Office XP was available. We even provided advanced final code two weeks earlier than we originally anticipated because our customers wanted to start playing with the final code as soon as possible. At Microsoft’s recent Worldwide Partner Conference, partners were telling us that customers were pumping them for more information on the Office System. So we definitely think people are excited, and are very clearly taking a look at what we have to offer in this version, especially with the new versions of Exchange and SharePoint Portal Server, and our new Live Communications Server and Live Meeting offerings. Because all of these products and technologies have been designed to integrate with each other, we believe the Office System will stand up to their evaluations and hopefully surpass their expectations.
PressPass: Microsoft is often criticized for Office “bloat.” Rather than piling on new features, you seem to be taking a different route this time around. What is different about this version of Office?
Eschbach: What customers have told us is that business customers are really interested in organizational productivity — that is, improving productivity across the organization. The way you achieve organizational productivity is by making sure that client technology works seamlessly with server technology so organizations have the ability to roll out more end-to-end solutions that connect their employees to business processes that are taking place on the back end.
We’ve had best-of-class offerings on the desktop as well as on the server side for many years. But customers want to be able to connect the desktop to the server, so they can bring data that’s being stored at the server level to the desktop for people to access and use in the applications they use everyday. Thanks to the innovations we’ve made with the Office System, we expect customers to be able to roll out complete solutions that blend the best of desktop technologies with the best of servers quickly and efficiently — at a lower cost and with a bigger business impact.
PressPass: How does this new version fit into Microsoft’s overall strategy?
Eschbach: What this version of Office really does is close a loop on our whole Web-services strategy and .NET strategy. We’ve been providing server technology that works in the .NET Framework for sometime. We shipped Visual Studio .NET, the system of software-development tools that developers can use to create Web services. We shipped Windows Server 2003, the server software that IT departments can use to deploy, host and manage Web services. By bringing the Microsoft Office System to the world of .NET, XML, and Web services, that XML world extends to the desktop for the first time, as information workers work in an environment that is XML-ready and Web services-ready, and that integrates very effectively and very efficiently with the .NET Framework.
PressPass: How will the new Office System benefit the individual end user?
Eschbach: If I had to single out any application for helping to really drive individual productivity, it would have to be Outlook. It’s the application that people spend the most time in, and we have revamped it, so it helps to address a lot of the information overload customers face with e-mail. It does that by not only by helping manage junk mail, e-mail and spam. It also provides tools useful to the information worker like search folders, a new preview pane, advanced flagging and shared calendars. This allows employees to more efficiently manage their business and personal time.
One of things we’re looking to do with this release is keep adding value to Office even after we’ve shipped it, through Web-based tools like the new Office Online site. Through Office Online (see Related Links, at right), end users will be able to immerse themselves and discover the value of the Office System with an array of demos, templates, third-party services, and tips and tricks on how to be more efficient in their business environment or personal life. So Office can continue to grow with the user.
PressPass: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Microsoft with regard to the Office System today and for the future? How is Microsoft responding to those challenges?
Eschbach: I think the biggest challenge for us is to get customers to look at Office in a new light, and realize how it’s changed. Customer perceptions are that Office is just about creating a document, sending it to a printer, printing it off and carrying the document into a meeting. That’s not what Office is today. The Microsoft Office System is about a continuous process — integrating software and services, so information workers can plug in to business processes, and know what’s going on in their organization so they can make better decisions.
Our philosophy is to provide more value to customers that they can’t realize anywhere else. We’re doing that by creating new applications like InfoPath and OneNote, evolving existing applications, such as the work we’ve done Outlook and the new user interface, and integrating these applications with services such Windows SharePoint Services, Live Communications Server, our new Exchange Server, and SharePoint Portal Server offerings. It’s about innovating and providing customers with a true return on investment that is measurable and relevant to their business needs.
PressPass: So what’s next?
Eschbach: We’re obviously just launching this version of the product. For the future, we’re going to continue to listen to our customers, and ask what needs are not being met, and how we can provide more value to them. Companies large and small will continue to face new problems in the years ahead, problems that are unheard of today. We want to help them solve the problems of tomorrow through the technology we create.