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Microsoft Office 2003 hits the streets

Information rights management

The latest version of Microsoft's Office suite, Office 2003, has hit the streets. It incorporates improved collaborative and server products underpinned with XML compatibility.

Office 200 lacks dramatic improvements to the core systems elements such as Word or Excel, but it debuts Microsoft's first application-specific Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. Dubbed Information Rights Management (IRM), this system allows firms to control how email, Word or Excel documents are copied, read, printed and distributed.

Firms must install Windows Server 2003 at the back end if they wish to roll out IRM.

Speaking at the London product launch yesterday, Steven Sinofsky, senior veep of Microsoft's Office business, denied that such integration was designed to force firms to adopt end-to-end Microsoft technology. but added that "incremental benefits" were available to companies that made such a move.

Most of the development work that Microsoft has undertaken to differentiate the 2003 release centres on collaborative working applications, with an updated Outlook, SharePoint Portal services, Office Live Communications Server, and the introduction of a note taking tool dubbed One Note that synchronises typed or Tablet PC jottings with associated digital audio recordings. The product is also integrated with XML-based web services.

Given that the Office family of products accounts for around 25 per cent of the software giant's revenues, and given that in fiscal 2003 the firm posted sales of $32.2 billion, a quick scribble on the back of the proverbial envelope shows us that the package is worth a cool $8 billion annually to Bill and the gang.

Given this, and the fact that Bill Gates claimed at the product's launch that 400 million people fire up Microsoft Office every day, it's hardly a surprise that the company is aggressively beating the upgrade drum. ®

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