Microsoft debuts Office upgrade

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Microsoft is set on Monday to unveil new capabilities for its Office suite of PC applications that are expected to play a central part in its efforts to maintain the growth of one of its most important money-earners.

The software upgrades, to be included in the next version of Office due late next year, will bring so-called “business intelligence” features to the software package. Besides strengthening Microsoft’s case for users to upgrade their desktop software, this will also pose a challenge to a group of independent software companies that have thrived during the generally weak period for corporate technology spending of the past five years.

Business intelligence software is designed to make it easier for workers to draw together and analyse information from different corporate databases. This has been one of the fastest-growing parts of the software business, as customers look for tools that help workers get more value out of the expensive technology infrastructure put in place during the 1990s boom, and has underpinned the growth of software companies such as Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion Solutions.

At an event on Monday, Jeff Raikes, president of the company’s new business division, is set to outline how Microsoft plans to include business intelligence features in Office 12, the edition of the software scheduled to coincide with the launch of the next version of Windows before the end of 2006.

Office has been Microsoft’s main money-earner, alongside Windows PCs. However, each new version of the software faces increasing difficulties, because many users are reluctant to pay for new software and retraining staff when their existing software performs most of the functions they need.

In the next version of Office, Excel, the spreadsheet element in the software, will become a more interactive “window” on to corporate data, Microsoft said. Workers will be able to access, analyse and share information through Excel, the company said. A second feature will let users create a personalized “dashboard” on their PCs that draws data and charts from a number of sources, Microsoft said.

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