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Retailers, PC makers join Office party

Retail stores and PC companies want consumers and small businesses to buy the Microsoft software--and they're ponying up extras to drive sales.

Microsoft isn't alone in trumpeting Office XP: Retailers and PC makers want consumers and small businesses to buy the new version of the software--and they're ponying up extras to drive sales.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker launched Office XP on Thursday morning, during a New York gala officiated by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

While Gates brought out larger customers--among them Ford Motor and United Parcel Service--to tout Office XP's new features, the upgrade from Office 97 and 2000 has consumer and small-business appeal, too.

Adoption in those areas would be particularly nourishing for the industry, given that PC sales in the United States are down as much as 10 percent from early 2000, according to Technology Business Research analyst Lindy Lesperance.

"It's important to the retailers and the PC makers to push the new upgrades, because a lot of times there is a PC upgrade as well," she said. "Every little bit helps to drive sales, particularly with consumers and small businesses."

Online retailer is encouraging Office XP sales by offering 128MB of free memory with any version of the productivity suite and a free 40GB hard drive or Adobe Acrobat 5 with two specific versions of Office XP. Catalog and online retailer Zones also offers a free copy of Acrobat, and PC Mall offers 128MB of free memory with select versions.

Gateway's approach is a special on Office XP training--$99 for an online, go-at-your-own-pace course on the software.

Dell Computer didn't wait for Microsoft's launch of Office XP; the computer maker started selling it with new PCs more than a month ago. Dell is trying to woo small and medium-sized businesses with an Office XP promotion: a Dimension L Series PC with a 1GHz Pentium III processor, 64MB of memory, a 20GB hard drive, an 8X CD-RW drive, a 17-inch monitor, Office XP Small Business Edition, six months of America Online Internet service and Windows Me for $999.

Regionally, retailers are making some attractive offers. Newspapers in New York had CompUSA offering 128MB of memory or a 40GB hard drive with select versions of Office XP. In the San Francisco area, Staples is running ads offering a free Palm m100 handheld--after rebate--and an Agfa CL18 digital camera. OfficeMax is advertising over $400 worth of goodies, including an Iomega 100MB Zip drive, a six-pack of Zip disks, and an Iomega CD-RW drive with an Office XP purchase.

Consumers and small businesses looking for the retail version of Office XP will find it available in four flavors: Standard, Professional, Professional Special Edition and Developer. The Standard version will offer new versions of the word processing application Word, the Excel spreadsheet software, the Outlook e-mail and contact application, and the PowerPoint presentation program.

Microsoft's estimated retail upgrade price is $239, and the full version in most cases costs $479. But PC Connection is offering the upgrade version for $10 less.

Office XP Professional adds the Access database, bumping the upgrade price to $329, or $579 for the full version. Again, PC Connection offers a lower price--$300 for the upgrade and $529 for the full version. The Professional Special Edition is a more full-featured version, including the FrontPage Web creation program, and sells for around $479. Office XP Developer, which adds FrontPage and development tools, in most cases costs $549 as an upgrade and $799 for the full version. PC Connection offers the full version for $50 less.

Two other versions of Office will be available on new PCs: Small Business and Professional with Publisher. Microsoft said PC makers determine the final pricing. Office XP Small Business comes with Word, Excel, Outlook and Publisher. The Professional version adds Access and PowerPoint.

Several of the programs bundled with Office XP are offered separately. Microsoft's Web-authoring and site-management program, FrontPage 2002, costs around $90 for the upgrade and $169 for the full version. Graphics program Publisher 2002 sells for about $129.

In addition to Office XP, Microsoft unveiled two companion products: Visio 2002, a diagramming program, and MapPoint 2002, a program for mapping. Visio upgrades, available in Standard and Professional editions, are $99 and $249, respectively. The full Visio 2002 Standard Edition is $199, and Professional is $300 more. MapPoint 2002 sells for $249, with a $50 rebate available to those who upgrade from the 2001 version.