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Microsoft delivers rights management tool

The software giant releases server software that allows workers to restrict access to documents created in Office and other applications.

Microsoft released software on Tuesday that will let workers restrict access to documents created with the company's Office software and other applications.

Windows Rights Management Services (WRMS) is designed to allow corporate networks running on Windows Server 2003 to include a server that manages and enforces restrictions built into documents.

As previously reported, support for the technology is built into Office 2003, the overhaul of the widespread productivity package that was released last month. Workers using the new Office applications can set various restrictions on the documents they create. For example, they're able to limit who can read or alter a document, to assign privileges for copying and printing, and to set expiration dates.

When someone receives a restricted document, that person must briefly log in to the WRMS server--over the Internet or a corporate network--to validate the permissions.

The new services have drawn criticism from some rivals, partly because they impede the ability of competing productivity applications to access documents. Secured documents can only be opened by Office 2003 applications or via a new add-on for Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser.

WRMS is expected to find a ready audience, however, among businesses such as financial and pharmaceutical companies that face strict document-handling regulations. Such tasks currently must be managed by add-on software. Adding support for rights management to the applications used to create documents will make the technology easier to use and more widespread, according to Microsoft.

"What we heard from our customers is that it's got to be easy to use, it's got to be an intuitive part of the work flow, and it's got to be easy to administer from the IT perspective," said Jon Murchinson, a product manager at Microsoft.

While Office 2003 will be the most significant avenue for creating data that links to WRMS, other software makers, including computing service giant Electronic Data Systems, are supporting the server release.

As previously reported, WRMS is available as a free download for Windows Server 2003 users. Instead of buying the software, customers must pay for a client access license for every user who needs to access files protected by WRMS. Individual licenses cost $37 per user, or $185 for a pack of five licenses. An "external connector license" priced at $18,066 allows blanket access for people outside a corporate network to access secured documents.