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Microsoft Posts Bits For Office 2007 Beta 2

But after so many weeks, do people even care anymore?

Just in time for Bill Gates' WinHEC keynote, testers on Tuesday got product keys to Microsoft Office 2007 beta 2. That means those who eagerly await the latest bits can download them now if they have their Windows Live (Passport) ID.

At first glance, it appeared that beta versions for all of the Office 2007 desktop applications and servers were made available for download, said one Microsoft partner logging onto the site. But after so many delays, the question is how much even dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft partisans care any more, some solution providers said.

"In all reality, the people who care about these releases are Technology Adoption Program companies and some partners," said one longtime partner, who requested anonymity. "We count on the features and functions getting more robust, and our testing/deployment plans are what drive a lot of decisions along the way. Of course, Microsoft slipping the dates hurts us from a planning perspective, but I would rather entertain the slip prior to shipping than having to deal with a rushed deployment of a Service Pack post release."

Another longtime Microsoft partner said such stop-and-go and "all the FUD they created" has hurt the Redmond, Wash., company's credibility in many quarters. That view comes at a time when even Microsoft junkies are taking a hard look at Novell's new Linux desktop, which is a situation that Microsoft must take into account.

The Office 2007 beta and downloads had been promised for this spring. Office 2007, the Windows Vista client and the Longhorn Windows Server have been on a treadmill for more than a year, as have key subsystems like WinFS, the Windows File System.

Microsoft plans to showcase WinFS, again, at Tech Ed 2006 next month, according to the WinFS Web log.

WinFS is--or will be--the unified storage system underlying a variety of upcoming Microsoft technologies. In the posting, WinFS Program Manager Shan Sinha said Microsoft plans to show off beta 2 of WinFS at Tech Ed, but it was unclear if those beta 2 bits would be distributed.

WinFS, in particular, has proven to be a long, difficult road for Microsoft. This promised storage nirvana--which ostensibly will handle the usual structured and unstructured data plus a wealth of other data types--has encountered delays. Microsoft released initial beta code last fall just before its Professional Developers Conference.

"People will care about [WinFS] again when and if it actually happens, but it's been such an on-again, off-again thing," said one East Coast Microsoft partner, who requested anonymity. "They've sacrificed so many times, no one really knows when it will surface."

On the upside, the partner added, "At least we know what they're shooting for. How and if they'll actually get this stuff out is the question."

Last month, Paul Flessner, data and storage vice president at microsoft, signaled what looked to be a more evolutionary and incremental path toward unified storage.

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