When Microsoft Corp. releases a new version of its Office productivity suite, the software tends to be somewhat more approachable, functional and Internet-connected than the last. However, when it comes to staving off enterprise defections to open-source alternatives or coaxing stalwarts of previous Office versions to upgrade, pleasant but fundamentally minor advances in Office aren't going to get it done.
In eWeek Labs' tests of the second beta of Microsoft's Office 2003, we indeed found it more polished than Office XP in all the expected places, but what will really set Office 2003 apart when it ships this summer is its suitewide integration of XML. This should enable users and enterprises to work with their information in new, more efficient and creative ways.
In tests, we found it relatively easy to make the core applications of Office 2003 to consume and produce XML data that conformed to a variety of schemas. However, as with the extensibility features in previous versions of Office, the usefulness of Office 2003's XML-based capabilities will depend not so much on their quality but on whether companies choose to use them.
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