Microsoft adding security controls to Office 10

Microsoft Corp. this week released the second beta-test version of Office 10 that adds security controls, voice recognition and replication technology to the popular suite of productivity applications.

The next version of Office, which is scheduled to ship late spring or early summer next year, also has a number of features that align the software with Microsoft’s .Net strategy. Integration between Office and the Web is one of the hallmarks of .Net, which lets software be accessed over the Internet from a number of devices.

Microsoft is trying to combine Office 10, Exchange 2000 and a document management server called Tahoe into a platform for collaboration, or so-called knowledge management. Office is made up of numerous applications including Word, Excel, Outlook, Access and PowerPoint.

In this second beta-test version of Office, Microsoft is addressing some of the security concerns users have faced with Outlook. The e-mail client has been the target of a number of insidious viruses over the past year including the LoveLetter worm.

Office 10 incorporates the Outlook E-mail Security Update that was issued as a patch last May. The patch let Outlook users block a number of attachments. The feature can be customized so IT departments can choose attachments to block when installing Outlook on a network.

“Microsoft has always made Outlook freely programmable, and they can’t do that anymore,” says Chris LeToq, an analyst with DataQuest. LeToq says desktop productivity is starting to emerge as an integration of features available on the desktop and those available over the Web, and is fostering many security issues.

“A lot of Web services haven’t grasped those enterprise security issues, and I would say Microsoft hasn’t grasped them either,” LeToq says.

To wit, Office 10 has some harsh security controls that protect users but disable features of the software. One such control is an option to block the installation of Visual Basic for Applications.

“We are not recommending this as a normal course because it disables significant functionality in Office 10,” says Lisa Gurry, product manager for Microsoft Office. One of the consequences, Gurry says, is that users won’t be able to install Access.

In addition to security features, Office 10 adds voice recognition technology that lets users dictate text into documents.

Microsoft expects beta-test Version 2 of Office 10 to be the last beta-test version before shipment. Pricing has not been set.