On Wednesday, Microsoft temporarily provided MSDN Universal subscribers with a variety of Office 2003 (formerly Office 11) Beta 2 downloads, including the main components of the suite—Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word--OneNote 2003 (code-named Scribbler), InfoPath 2003 (code-named XDocs), FrontPage 2003, Publisher 2003, and SharePoint Portal Server 2003. However, the posting appears to have been premature: After making the products available for a few hours, Microsoft pulled the downloads, stating that the company wasn't yet ready to release Beta 2. One problem, of course, is that Office 2003 beta testers hadn't yet received the Beta 2 code, which was finalized at Microsoft over a week ago.
"We want to make sure we have all the materials ready, so that people have the best experience with the beta," a Microsoft spokesperson said. The company will widely distribute Office 2003 Beta 2, and will eventually provide the product via a public preview program. As first reported in WinInfo, Office 2003 products will be marketed as part of Microsoft's so-called iWave campaign, which targets information workers.
While I'll have an extensive review of Office 2003 Beta 2 in the coming weeks, a cursory look at all of the currently-available Beta 2 applications shows some maturity since the Beta 1 release. Toolbar icons and overall fit-and-finish have been improved dramatically, giving each of the products a more polished look. New Permission functionality ties Office documents and email to Microsoft's Windows Rights Management (WRM) system, allowing document makers to determine how recipients can use their creations. For example, you can send a protected email that cannot later be forwarded, copied to the clipboard, or printed. Outlook includes new spam filtering functionality, though it appears to have no affect on IMAP or Web-based email accounts, which is unfortunate. And OneNote is now stable enough to use regularly, so I'll begin giving it a workout during the regular note-taking sessions that dominate much of my time.
If you have questions about Office 2003, please fire away.