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Microsoft preps desktop software

The software giant's latest version of its Office applications suite targets small businesses.

Microsoft (MSFT) rolled out the latest version of its Office desktop applications suite for small businesses today and shipped the final beta of its Visual InterDev development tool.

Office 97 Small Business Edition 2.0 includes the core group of productivity applications like Word 97, the Excel 97 spreadsheet, the messaging and collaboration client Outlook 98, and Publisher 98, as well as a host of new business management and marketing tools, according to the company.

The Office 97 Small Business Edition suite also includes Small Business Financial Manager 98, a tool for pricing and inventory management, as well as creating financial projections and industry comparisons.

As previously reported, the new Outlook client adds support for a whole slew of Internet standards, such as IMAP4, LDAP, and S/MIME. It also includes support for Internet calendaring standards, like iCal and vCal, which allow users to share schedule information over the Web. Support for vCard, an emerging standard for electronic business cards, is also part of the new package.

Publisher 98, a desktop publishing package, provides automated design templates, and a wizard that allows users to make changes on the fly during the design and layout process. Another feature, AutoConvert, lets designers reformat a publication to a new size, layout, or publication type. For example, users can turn a brochure into a Web site or a Web site into a newsletter, according to the company.

Making good on earlier promises to include more Web-centric applications for marketing and automating the direct mailing process, Microsoft is including Direct Mail Manager. The application allows users to access American Business Information, to verify address lists against the U.S. Postal Service Zip+4 database, and then opt to work with a mailing service like Pitney Bowes or Neopost.

Office 97 Small Business Edition 2.0 is priced at $249, with a $40 rebate for registered users of Office for Windows. Publisher 98 is available separately for $99.95.

Separately, Microsoft said that its Visual InterDev 6.0 Web development tool is now entering a final beta test.

With the new version of the tool, Microsoft is borrowing heavily from its hugely popular Visual Basic development tool.

The tool builds HTML and script-based applications. New features include client- and server-side debugging, a new HTML page editor with support for Dynamic HTML and other features; better links to database servers, especially Microsoft's SQL Server; and team development features.

VI 6.0 also adds support for developers targeting the Windows DNA (Windows Distributed interNet Applications) architecture, which uses middle-tier COM (Component Object Model) components.

Microsoft will also bundle its FrontPage 98 Web site development and management tool with the final shipping release of Visual InterDev.

Visual InterDev will also mark the debut of a new streamlined user interface, code-named Vegas, eventually to be used throughout Microsoft's tool lineup. Visual J++ 6.0, introduced several weeks ago, also uses the new user interface, and Microsoft plans to add the interface, over time, to its other development tools.