The final version of Office XP, formerly code-named Office 10, is expected to ship in June. The Corporate Preview Release follows the Beta 2 of Office XP that Microsoft sent to 10,000 technical testers late last year.
Microsoft announced earlier this month that it plans to brand the 2001 versions of its flagship Windows and Office products with the XP moniker. XP stands for "experience" and is intended to help differentiate the forthcoming Web versions of the products from the current versions of Windows 2000 and Office 2000.
Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq was bullish about Microsoft's move to increase the visibility of Office XP through the preview release, but added that Microsoft faces some serious challenges with Office.
"The challenge that Microsoft is facing is that for a lot of people the version of Office that they have right now works just fine for them...They don't plan to upgrade," LeTocq said. "In general this is a challenge for Microsoft, that more and more people are hanging on to Office."
Microsoft is charging $19.95 per copy for the preview. The Corporate Preview beta can be installed on up to 10 computers and will expire Aug. 31, 2001.
Office XP includes updated versions of Microsoft's core desktop applications, such as Word, Excel, Outlook, Access, PowerPoint and FrontPage.
Separately, Microsoft announced it has begun shipping the final version of its BackOffice 2000 server suite.
BackOffice 2000 is Microsoft's bundle of its latest back-end server applications and system software. Included in the suite are Windows 2000 Server, Exchange 2000, SQL Server 2000, Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000, Systems Management Server 2.0, and Microsoft Host Integration Server 2000. The product is geared to midsized organizations, branch offices and departments of larger corporations.
Microsoft is selling BackOffice 2000 through its reseller and integrator partners, directly via the Shop Microsoft Web site, and through various retail outlets. The bundle costs $3,999 and includes five client-access licenses (CALs) as part of the base fee. Customers need to purchase CAL add-on packs to add more users.
New to BackOffice is a new licensing option through which BackOffice 2000 customers can install the software bundle across three servers. Previously, some customers said they ran into resource constraints when attempting to run all of the BackOffice applications on a single server, as was required with BackOffice 4.5.
By adding this "multiserver deployment option" to BackOffice 4.5, Microsoft is trying to make the process easier for customers, said Lead Product Manager Tracie Edwards.
"We are facilitating the management of BackOffice and the ability to build on top of it. The keys to this product are ease of management and ease of use," she said.
News.com's Cecily Barnes contributed to this report.