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Cost of new Office coming soon

Analysts expect Microsoft to reveal within the next few weeks the pricing of and a release date for the updated version of its Office software.

Microsoft plans to reveal pricing and a release date soon for the next version of its Office software, according to analysts.

So far, the company has only said the various components of its newly renamed Office System line of products would ship late this summer. That means Microsoft would need to have a final version of the software to ship to PC manufacturers within the next few weeks.

Microsoft and other software manufacturers typically ship a final "release to manufacturing" (RTM) version of an application as the last step before public release. The RTM version has to be delivered in time for PC makers to test the software, in preparation for preloading it onto new computers.

"My sense is they're still on track to release in late September or early October," said Paul DeGroot, an analyst for research firm Directions on Microsoft. "That means you'd want to have the RTM in August."

A representative for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft declined to comment for this story.

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Jupiter Research, said feedback from beta testing for the new Office suggests a RTM version should be ready soon.

"The indication from the last beta is that it's pretty stable," Gartenberg said.

Whatever day Microsoft does announce final details for the release of the new Office, it won't be too early for corporate information technology managers, who have had to wait months longer than normal to learn pricing details. The company usually announces such details when it publishes bundling terms, DeGroot said. But the software giant revealed Office Systems packaging early this summer without a price list.

DeGroot said Microsoft's hesitation on pricing may reflect the novelty of some of the most significant new features in the enterprise versions of the new Office. These features include support for customized services based on XML (extensible markup language) and digital rights management, which have not yet been put to great use by businesses.

"Customers are going to have to make decisions on what this upgrade is worth, based on technology that is either very new or not tested on the desktop," DeGroot said. "You can't really evaluate the value of digital rights management right now--it's just too new."

Microsoft gave a hint of future pricing directions when it revealed new licensing terms and new consumer pricing for the current Office earlier this year. But the software giant's moves to position Office System as a broad foundation for delivering enterprise services invites new pricing schemes, Gartenberg said.

"I think we're going to see them come up with some fairly creative pricing structures," he said.