Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday released the latest version of Microsoft Office, which will be available in Canada starting Oct. 21.

With Microsoft garnering criticism over its products -Windows and Office historically relying on patches to plug often-uncovered security holes – the company launched its largest beta program ever with about 600,000 users testing out Microsoft Office 2003, in an effort to boost its negative reputation in this area.

Scott Jackson, product manager, Microsoft Office at Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., explained a feature was built directly into the beta versions called the Watson Tool that would notify users when a bug was found. The user could then choose to send the error report directly to Microsoft.

In addition, Jackson said the new Microsoft Office products will feature greater support for extensible markup language (XML) to allow users to tie in the products with back-end systems and Web services and to allow for greater collaboration between users. [Please see Microsoft Provides Peek at Office 2003.]

Microsoft Office 2003 will also feature two completely new products. The company announced a notetaking program called OneNote that allows users to take notes on their desktops using an interface that resembles a notepad, and catalogue them in a program separate from Word. The other new program, called InfoPath, will allow users to create and save XML-based forms such as order forms, and validate them by tying them into back-end data sources.

So far, Microsoft has unveiled prices for its Student and Teacher Edition, at $219, its Standard Edition, at $609, and its Professional Edition at $759. Prices for standalone products – Office, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint – are $349, while Outlook costs $159.

Prices haven’t been firmly set for InfoPath or OneNote, but Microsoft said the expected retail price will be $299.

Volume-licensing prices will be released in September.

Microsoft is headquartered in Redmond, Wash. For more information visit