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Office 2000 put to the test

Testers receive the latest beta version of the popular software suite--the delay in rolling out the final version will hurt the bottom line, Microsoft says.

Microsoft has sent out the latest beta version of Office 2000 to technical testers, the company confirmed today.

Office 2000, Microsoft's next generation of office suite applications, has been beset by delays, which have cost the company in this quarter's earnings. (See related story.)

But beta testers are reporting that the first Release Candidate of the much-anticipated software has been released. Release Candidates are issued to testers after most bugs have been reported and fixed, and are close to the final version of the product. There are typically only a few Release Candidates before the final product is introduced.

Microsoft is on track to release Office 2000 in the first fiscal quarter of this year, said John Duncan, a product manager with Microsoft. The Release Candidate was sent out to a "few thousand" testers, he said.

"This just means that it's in the final stages of testing," Duncan said.

Microsoft has pushed back the release date for Office 2000, and recently told investors that the company would not be able to realize revenues associated with the upcoming product for this quarter's earnings. The company will defer $400 million in revenue because of the Office 2000 delay.

Office 2000 includes updated versions of the company's popular Word and Excel desktop applications. The suite is expected to be more Internet-centric, and in fact prompts users to install the company's Internet Explorer Web browser.

The Release Candidate of Office 2000 contains Microsoft Premium Edition files, Microsoft Publisher 2000, and updated Office Server Extensions and an updated Office Resource Kit, according to one tester.

Microsoft recently offered a free copy of Office 2000 to any user who filled out a detailed marketing survey. After a flood of responses from interested users, the company closed the offer. Microsoft has reportedly reopened the survey, but only to targeted users.

Interested participants were perhaps trying to get around the prices Microsoft is charging for the new suite. Office 2000 Premium is priced at $399 for Microsoft Office upgrades and other qualifying Microsoft desktop applications, and $449 for non-Microsoft suites or desktop applications. For new users, Office 2000 Premium will be priced at $799.

"We're actually maintaining the same price, but with many more features and a lot more value," said Duncan. "Where we've introduced a new version of the product, the Premium edition, we've had to introduce a new price, because there's different applications in the suite."