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Office 2000 delayed

Microsoft continues to heavily test the next version of its business productivity suite and says it will be available later than originally expected.

Microsoft continues to heavily test the next version of its business productivity suite and said the general availability date will be later than originally expected.

Instead of being on the shelves in the first quarter of 1999, the product will be in customers' hands the next quarter, the company said.

Shying away from calling the second quarter release a delay, Microsoft couched it as being a "more secure estimate" than what was provided before.

"Now we know that RTM [release to manufacturing] will be in the first quarter of 1999, with general availability in channels by the second quarter," said John Duncan.

Duncan said Beta 2 of the office suite is due to go out in the coming weeks, which follows a widespread Beta 1 that went out to 20,000 users.

As earlier reported, Office 2000 will inaugurate a new component strategy and will, for the first time, include Microsoft's FrontPage Web authoring tool in certain versions of the final product when it ships next year. It will also include PhotoDraw 2000, the company's new business graphics software.

Expected to be priced around the same range of Office 97, or $499, the new suite also features the first beta version of Outlook 2000, the latest version of Microsoft's email client software. The new version features enhancements like Office E-Mail, which allows users to compose messages using any Office application and to send the message as HTML.

Microsoft will be offering five suite options when Office 2000 ships in 1999. Announced today, Office 2000 Premium offers corporate users and software enthusiasts a high-end suite of Web tools, desktop applications, document management software, and graphic design technology.

Microsoft has been trying to fix a "more secure estimate" since late summer when executives said they expected to ship Office 2000 in the first quarter of next year, months after analysts expected it to hit shelves.

Originally, both technology and Wall Street analysts had expected the popular desktop application suite this fall. Some even targeted the release of the Office upgrade as early as October. Analysts said the company originally attempted to set the release of Office with Windows NT 5.

Duncan said the release plan is on target. "This is a quality driven release. Everything is going according to schedule."