Last weekend, Microsoft began shipping to testers the first release candidate build of Office XP (Office 10), a build that also will go out to the public as the Office Professional Corporate Preview Beta. Although Microsoft hasn't announced which editions will comprise the final Office XP release, this package's documentation suggests that Professional Edition will continue, with a slight name change to Office Professional with FrontPage. This release is one of the final stepping stones to the widespread retail release, which is expected in May.
Microsoft Office XP, like the Windows XP release it shares its branding with, is built around the concept of "experiences." In Office XP, experiences translate to bubbling up functionality to the user in simpler ways, making it easier for users to master tools. As the company notes, "Microsoft Office Professional with FrontPage was designed around and built for end users and will be a trend-setting product in many ways. With this major release of Office, Microsoft will deliver advancements to simplify the way people work, introduce customers to .NET services, implement new antipiracy measures, and provide benefits to individuals and teams, as well as organizations of all sizes."
Office XP's simplification initiatives include Smart Tags and the new Task Pane, which make it easier to discover previously hidden functionality; these features let users complete common tasks in fewer steps. Office XP also makes it easier to collaborate with other users on Office documents, schedules, and other information, both internally on corporate networks and across the Internet using the Web. And Office XP delivers a far more reliable and secure environment with a variety of tools and technologies that make the product more stable and safe. Microsoft says that Office XP is the most reliable product the Office team has ever developed.
I've been working on a massive Office XP review, which I've posted to the SuperSite for Windows in installments; this week I'll add Part 4, Microsoft Word 2002.