Gates Enlists Bezos To Help Focus Spotlight On Office XP

Microsoft stages launch events for Office XP

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will unveil the company's new Office XP productivity suite at a press conference Thursday morning in New York, trotting out execs such as Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos to drum up interest in the product.

Office XP, the first upgrade to Microsoft's flagship desktop application suite in two years, is available in four editions carrying upgrade prices of $239 to $549. The software introduces features and usability enhancements aimed at unlocking the product's functionality without requiring users to bore through multilayered menus. For example, new "Smart Tags" icons prompt users for additional information from Internet sites when they type key words into files. A new "task pane" interface prompts users to perform common editing functions. Office XP's Excel 2002 spreadsheet and Access 2002 database apps also natively read and write XML.

The question is whether Microsoft can upgrade enough of the world's 120 million Office users to provide a revenue lift in the face of slowing PC sales growth. Office and other desktop apps contributed 37% of Microsoft's $6.46 billion in third-quarter revenue. But sales of those apps rose just 7% during the quarter--about the same as PC sales.

To generate excitement for its new product, Microsoft plans to stage more than 100 launch events around the United States between Thursday and Saturday. In New York, Bezos will join Gates to talk about Amazon's intent to purchase Office XP and the company's trial use of XP on about 10,000 PCs. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will host an event in Chicago.