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Office apps mixed and matched

Amid complaints about Office 97's backward compatibility, Microsoft announces two new reseller programs for its latest desktop application suite.

Amid complaints that Office 97 has kludgy backward compatibility, Microsoft (MSFT) today announced two new reseller programs for its recently launched desktop application suite.

The company announced today a new installment program for value-added resellers. The program has a flexible license that lets VARs choose four applications from the eight Office family applications to install on any desktop. Office family apps are Word, Access, Excel, FrontPage, Publisher Deluxe, Outlook, Team Manager, and PowerPoint. Each four-app installment will cost the same as the Office 97 standard edition.

The second reseller program makes the Office 97 small business edition available to smaller OEMs. Pricing is not yet available; both programs will be available next month.

Since its January 16 launch, Office 97 users have complained about a lack of backward compatibility in Word 97. Though Office 97 is touted as a viable groupware suite, Word 97 files are not readable in Word 95 or Word 6.0. Users of those programs who share documents with Office 97 users need to download and install a file format converter, according to Dennis Tevlin, director of Office marketing.

The same converter is also available from a different page of Microsoft's site but only for registered Office 97 users. The confusion has prompted more criticism from users who feel that the upgrade process is far too cumbersome.

There are other solutions to what Tevlin called "tough coexistence issues." For example, system administrators can also set default file formats across a network, effectively forcing users in a mixed Office environment to save everything in one format. Another option in Office 97 allows users to save a document with dual file formats, Tevlin said.

As for the first two weeks of Office 97 sales, the company would not announce specific numbers but did say that retail sales are twice the rate of the first two weeks of Office 95, Tevlin said. He added that the Office 97 professional edition, which includes the Access 97 database application, is accounting for about 70 percent of all reseller sales.

"The demand through the channel and a lot of end-user demand has been strong," said Sam Jadallah, vice president of Microsoft's organization customer unit.