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Finally, Office 2000 opens for business

Microsoft releases its new Office 2000 business suite and says it has sold 15 million licenses so far.

SAN FRANCISCO--After repeated delays, Microsoft today announced the shipment of its Office 2000 desktop application suite, a cash cow for the company that is designed to help small businesses better integrate their operations with the Web.

In a speech here heralding the much-anticipated release, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer announced a new set of Web-collaboration services based on Office 2000 that will be hosted by internet service providers Concentric Network and Verio, InterLand, and AIS.

The new Web-collaboration services are based on Web Server Extensions built into FrontPage 2000, the Web page management application within the new version of Office. The new service allows users who don't have a Web server onsite collaborate on Office documents over via an ISP that supports the new program, Microsoft said.

Support for the FrontPage Server Extensions allows users to publish documents directly to Web sites hosted by the ISPs, as well as add the ability to conduct collaborate within these documents.

"The new Office Web-collaboration services announced today will allow users in both large and small business to benefit from the Web work style, regardless of their Web server infrastructure," Ballmer said.

As expected, Office 2000 includes the latest generation of widely used business programs including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access. The suite was available to large corporate customers in April and is scheduled to be in retail outlets Thursday, Microsoft said.

Office 2000 makes extensive use of both HTML and XML as a file and data sharing format, intended to make the software more Web-friendly.

Office 2000 will inaugurate a new component strategy and will, for the first time, include Microsoft's FrontPage Web authoring tool. It will also include PhotoDraw 2000, the company's new business graphics software.

Giga Information Group, told CNET last week. "Office 97 was headed in this direction, but Office 2000 is the first big view of how they are implementing their Web strategy" on the desktop.

Keith Lindbeck, president of Beginning 2 End and a beta user of Office 2000, praised the Web features within the new product.

"The majority of the benefit to users is the Web collaboration tools," Lindbeck said. "It has made it much more interactive. And using FrontPage 2000 is much easier, because they have opened it up to many more ISPs."

As previously reported, Microsoft earlier this year had pushed back the release date for Office 2000 and told investors that the company would not be able to realize revenues associated with the product for its fiscal third quarter. The company said it deferred $400 million in revenue because of the Office 2000 delay.

The revenue was deferred because it can only be recognized when customers redeem coupons for Office 2000 that were received when paying for Office 97. Analysts were expecting about $4.65 billion in total company revenue for the quarter.

In his address, Ballmer said he expects Office sales to pick up soon after a surge with today's announcement.

Microsoft competes with Lotus's Smart Suite and Corel's WordPerfect in the desktop market.

In other news, a group of third-party vendors announced support for a number of small-business tools within Office 2000 that allow users to conduct direct mailing campaigns and access and distribute financial data from back-office systems. These new tools include: Small Business Customer Manager, Small Business Financial Manager, and Direct Mail Manager.

Office 2000 Premium is priced at $399 for Microsoft Office upgrades and other qualifying Microsoft desktop applications and $449 for non-Microsoft suites. Premium for new users will be $799.

Office 2000 Professional is priced at $309 for version upgrades, $349 for non-Microsoft upgrades, and $599 for new users.