On Monday, Microsoft announced Office XP's release to manufacturing. Various media report that Office XP will be available in retail stores May 31, although Microsoft has not announced a specific date.
Microsoft will ship an Office XP Corporate Preview Beta CD-ROM to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Universal subscribers this month and to TechNet Plus subscribers in April. While supplies last, Microsoft will take orders for the preview CD-ROM and ship it anywhere in the world for a nominal fee.
This release's new anti-piracy technology affects the preview in two ways. First, the preview won't be available as an MSDN download, as some other betas have been. Second, to activate the preview software with the new Online Activation Wizard, you must be connected to the Internet.
I'm all in favor of sneak previews that give users and administrators a taste of the final release. As with all betas, I strongly recommend that you install the Office XP preview on a test machine, not on a production system, and that you back up any data that you plan to use with Office XP. Remember that this is not the final version.
The preview kit includes a product guide with details on Office XP's many new and improved features. Assuming the guide duplicates the one available on the Web (), note its one major error: The guide touts the Local Web Storage System and related features in Outlook, although the storage system was cut from Office XP in December 2000.
Check out Outlook 2002's support for mail profiles that mix Exchange and IMAP accounts. In previous versions, you could use IMAP accounts only in Internet Mail Only mode, and Exchange mailbox accounts only in Corporate/Workgroup mode. Outlook 2002 eliminates the mode extensions, so you can include any mix of accounts in a single profile.
Exchange users and administrators, as well as standalone users, will appreciate the Send/Receive groups, a feature designed for organizing mail downloads and uploads, evolved from the offline synchronization groups first introduced in Outlook 2000. The new Outlook version makes this feature available for online and offline use and applies it to any account, not just to Exchange mailboxes.
Finally, the Microsoft team made good on its promise to provide end-user control of attachment blocking. Outlook 2002 enforces all security provisions introduced in the optional Outlook E-mail Security Update for Office 2000 Service Release 1 (SR1/1a). In Outlook 2002, an optional registry entry allows users to specify which potentially dangerous files they can open from email messages. To use this feature, users must add a new string value named Level1Remove to the registry (see path at the end of this article). The value for the key should be a semicolon-delimited list of file extensions. For example, a value of "mdb;url" would unblock Microsoft Access files and Internet shortcuts.
Once Microsoft releases Office XP, look for a new version of the administrative tools for the security features, which should include an option to control granting end users the ability to block attachments by using a new registry key. Also expect a mechanism to authorize COM add-ins to use the Outlook object model without popping up dialog boxes that require confirmation.