Microsoft delivers Office Service Pack

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday made available for download its first Service Pack for Office System 2003, which features fresh capabilities to its OneNote and InfoPath applications, along with improvements to overall speed and performance and a collection of previously announced security fixes.

In the new release, Microsoft has more tightly integrated OneNote with the core applications of Office 2003 as well as with mobile devices. It has spruced up its InfoPath development tool by adding to it more support for developers that use managed code, digital signatures, and e-mail-based sharing capabilities.

“With OneNote, for instance, multiple users can now do live collaboration where they can all write notes on screen together. Customers are telling us this is useful for meetings where you can take a OneNote file and, using a projector, put it up on a wall where everyone can contribute what they need to the meeting,” said Simon Marks, product manager of the Microsoft Office System 2003.

With the new release, users can also more easily insert Office-based documents directly into OneNote, import meeting details from Outlook 2003, and publish pages using Office Word 2003. The improved support for rich media makes it possible for users to copy notes directly from Microsoft’s Pocket PC or Smartphone into OneNote, company officials said.

In concert with the use of additional tools for using managed code and enhanced support for handling XML schemas, the improved version helps corporate and third-party developers create InfoPath-based customized solutions significantly faster, according to company officials.

Building on some of the junk e-mail controls new to Outlook 2003, users can now manage international messages and filter spam by moving messages to the junk e-mail folder based on the sender’s country suffix. Users can now automatically add the names of recipients on mail replies to the “safe senders” list, officials explained.

“We have improved the anti-spam tools with Outlook so they handle international spam. In the past if you had spam sent to you in Chinese our spam tools couldn’t recognize it because they couldn’t read it. The product has a much better understanding of other characters besides those in English,” said Marks.

Trying to establish a more democratic process in working with its users, many of the improvements in Service Pack 1 are the direct result of input from Microsoft users and business partners. Some users believe it has helped build a batter relationship with the company.

“We have worked closely with Microsoft to suggest improvements to the security and media features in OneNote. And we are pretty thrilled to see that those features are included in this (SP1) release,” said Teresa Grote, the CIO at law firm Dinsmore.

“We are trying to change the way we work and some of that involves being much more interactive with customers. We understand that a lot of times users know the products better than we do, and that they are the ones who can give us the feedback about how we can improve products,” Marks said.

Separately, Microsoft also announced on Tuesday its Access Conversion Kit. The new kit helps corporate users plan for and then execute Office 2003 upgrades and new installations. It is designed to help users discover, evaluate, and convert Access databases as part of an overall upgrade process, a company spokesperson said.

The company is also making an administrative patch available so IT professionals can more easily administer the product internally. Microsoft will make the products available on a CD in the next month, which will also be free although users will have to pay for postage.

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