First Office 2003 Service Pack Prepped

Microsoft is in the early phases of developing the first service release for its Office 2003 cash cow. Published reports speculate that instead of merely being comprised of the traditional grab-bag of hot fixes, the update may widen the suite's belt by nurturing Office freshmen OneNote and InfoPath beyond the confines of their 1.0 framework.

CRN is reporting that Microsoft plans to release the Office 2003 update to the Web sometime in May.

When asked to comment on this revelation, Microsoft would only confirm that the service pack was in the early stages of development and issued a statement saying, "anything we say about it would only be speculation right now, as a lot can change during the development process."

"I don't find it surprising that Microsoft would be prepping the first service pack for Office 2003. A service pack six to eight months following release of a new Office version is nothing unusual," Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, told BetaNews.

Although it is a long held belief that organizations often wait for the first service pack prior to committing money and resources to a new product release -- leading to speculation that Microsoft was rushing a service pack out the door -- Wilcox saw it differently.

"I don't expect the service pack's release to have any significant impact on Office 2003 sales. When businesses decided whether or not to sign up for Software Assurance in summer 2002, they also were deciding on Office 2003," said Wilcox. "If they wanted the lower-cost upgrade, they signed up for SA; they've already paid Microsoft for Office 2003, so to speak. Those planning to wait for another version, skipped SA."

A Microsoft spokesperson cited customer feedback from over 600,000 beta testers and new technologies such as its Watson automated crash-reporting technology, which debuted with Office XP, and the Service Quality Monitor (SQM), as the pillars of what is deems its most "stable and secure" release ever.

Data collected from Watson and SQM is being sifted through to help build the Longhorn edition of Office, according to sources.

Office 2003 introduced a new ecosystem of collaborative functionality to customers through the system's pervasive use of XML. The 2003 milestone also strove to move Office vertically - from its position of desktop dominance, onward toward new ground in the backend.

To counter fears of vendor lock-in raised by pundits and foes alike, Microsoft recently unveiled some of its XML schema templates to the public in an attempt to open its designs.

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