Microsoft on Wednesday offered further details on the next version of Office, announcing plans for a new home version as well as new server-based products and a new high-end enterprise edition of the desktop suite.
The software maker also offered pricing details for some, though not all, of the new products. In general, Microsoft said both businesses and consumers should expect to pay about the same for the new Office as they have paid for past versions.
"We do not expect our customers to notice any significant change in our pricing," said Parri Munsell, a group program manager in Microsoft's information worker unit. Office Standard, for example, will sell for US$399, while Office Professional will sell for US$499. Also, as widely expected, the version formerly code-named "Office 12" will be known as Office 2007 when it ships in the second half of this year.
Munsell said the new Office will offer a bevy of new features, including an all-new user interface and new XML-based file formats.
There's a tremendous amount in the new Office 2007," he said. "We do believe this is the most significant advance in over a decade."
Microsoft released an initial beta of Office 2007 in November, with a second beta planned for this spring.
In the biggest change for consumers, Microsoft is replacing its Student and Teacher edition with a US$149 Home and Student edition that can be used by all home users. Microsoft is also removing the Outlook e-mail and calendar program from that edition and instead is including its OneNote note-taking application. As with the Student and Teacher edition, the home version of Office can be used on up to three PCs in a home, but cannot be upgraded to a future version of Office.
On the business side, Microsoft is offering two high-end collections in addition to its professional and standard editions, in keeping with CEO Steve Ballmer's statement to analysts last year that there would be new premium versions of Office.
The "professional plus" and "enterprise" editions can only be purchased by businesses through Microsoft's volume-licensing program, and Microsoft did not detail the cost for those options. With the Professional Plus version, the standard Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook applications are augmented with the Access and Publisher products that come with the professional edition, the Office Communicator instant messaging program, InfoPath form-creation software, and server-based content management and forms management capabilities.
The enterprise version adds Groove, the collaboration program -- developed by Ray Ozzie -- that Microsoft acquired last year. Users who get the Groove desktop software have the choice of running their own Groove server or subscribing to a hosted service. For small businesses and others, Microsoft is also offering a Groove Live service for a US$79 annual subscription per user.
Microsoft has also been showing off new server-based abilities for Office, but had not detailed how those would be made available. Many of the new capabilities will be included in SharePoint Portal Server, which has been expanded from a tool for handling portals to one that also handles other Office tasks, including forms management, spreadsheet hosting and content rights management.
"We think Office SharePoint is going to be the heart of the Office system," Munsell said. For those who don't want the full abilities of SharePoint, Microsoft also plans a server program aimed solely at forms hosting and management.
As it does with other server-based programs, Microsoft is requiring customers to also purchase a licence for each PC that accesses the new Office servers. Microsoft is offering two bundles of those so-called client access licenses (CALs). The "Core CAL" combines licenses for Windows Server operating system, Exchange Server, Office SharePoint Portal Server and Systems Management Server. The new "Enterprise CAL" includes those licenses, as well as Microsoft Operations Manager, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server as well as rights-management and security products.
Microsoft is also using the SharePoint brand for a new Web site-development program. Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007, like Microsoft's Expression Web Designer software is based in part on its current FrontPage web-authoring tool, though that program is being phased out. Microsoft said it will sell the SharePoint Web design program for US$299, while pricing and availability for Expression will be announced "in the near future."
Although both programs are based on FrontPage, Microsoft said that they serve different audiences. Expressions is more for professional Web designers building standards-based sites, while SharePoint is aimed more at typical cubicle dwellers looking to post information on internal Web sites and automate business processes.