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Interview with Nicole von Kaenel,  Product Manager: Microsoft Office XP

ActiveWin.com: What was the development time of Microsoft Office XP? How many people were on the development team?

Nicole von Kaenel: The typical development cycle for the Office product is 12-18 months and Office XP fell into this timeframe. It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific number for the size of the team because there are many groups internally which give input throughout the development process, as well as our customers, partners, and channel who all contributed to the success of Office XP.

ActiveWin.com: What new and improved features does this version of Office XP have over the previous?

Nicole von Kaenel: Office XP has a very broad customer base, but we targeted our new features and major functionality to make individuals, teams, and organizations more productive.

  • Makes productivity simple for individuals – Office XP makes it much easier for individuals to discover and use the functionality of Office by being more intuitive and easier to use with features like smart tags, task panes and auto-complete options. In addition, Office XP gives users tools they can rely on with new reliability and security improvements like application and document recovery.
     
  • Enables collaboration for everyone – Collaboration is a major area of investment and innovation for Office XP. I would categorize these into 3 major categories:
     
  1. Outlook Improvements – Office XP allows people to communicate more effectively using improvements in Outlook like support for multiple email accounts, integration of Instant Messenger, plus calendar enhancements like Group Schedules, Propose New Time and the Dismiss All feature for Reminder Windows. In addition, the security enhancements in Outlook 2002 help protect our users from harmful viruses and attachments. These include: the Microsoft Outlook security update, VBE and VBProject turned off by default, a single security tab in Tools>Options, 128 bit encryption for passwords, default security settings set to high in Excel and PowerPoint, removal of personal properties when saving a document, the option to not install VBA (certain functionality reduced) and allowance for administrators to set security settings in the Custom Installation Wizard.
     
  2. Document Collaboration with Send for Review – Office XP uses email as the backbone for document collaboration, thus giving people an easy way to review, compare and merge documents with others via email, thus not changing the way they are accustomed to working. The new Send for Review feature helps users with the process of integrating feedback from multiple reviewers with things like Markup and Compare & Merge.
     
  3. SharePoint Team Services provides teams with “out-of-the-box” team workspaces on the web where members can collaborate and share documents, calendars, announcements, contacts, surveys and a variety of custom lists. SharePoint Team services sites are compatible with Office XP and easily customizable using FrontPage.
  • Flexible Way to Address Business Needs - Office XP offers organizations a variety of tools like extensible smart tags, data access pages, Office Web Components and native XML support in Excel and Access. These can all be used to build custom solutions that utilize the familiar Office front-end. In addition, Office has new features for reliability, security and deployment like Corporate Error Reporting and the Custom Installation and Maintenance Wizards which will help organizations to lower support costs and improve deployment and management.

ActiveWin.com: Why has Microsoft dropped PhotoDraw from the suite? Are there any plans to release a version 3.0 of the software in the future?

Nicole von Kaenel: Microsoft continually evaluates the Microsoft product line to ensure that the latest developments and technologies are available to our customers. Occasionally, products are discontinued to enable us to focus on developing advanced or similar products. Microsoft Picture Editor will continue to ship with Office XP for image editing and FrontPage will continue to ship with a variety of award-winning tools for web graphic creation. For consumer image editing and enhancement, there are several Microsoft PictureIt! products which are also available. In addition, Microsoft Visio is an excellent solution for a wide range of business drawing needs.

ActiveWin.com: During the Office XP beta stage, Outlook 2002 came with a new file format to store messages, appointments, etc. This new database format was supposed to increase performance of the software. However it was removed from the final version. Why?

Nicole von Kaenel: I am assuming that you are referring to the Local Web Storage System. After listening to feedback from our beta testers and partners, and evaluating the improvements that would be necessary to meet the quality and reliability that our customers expect from Office, we determined that the Local Web Storage System would not be available with Office XP.

ActiveWin.com: When should Service Release 1 of Office XP be available? Will this SR 1 enhance compatibility with Windows XP (control layout, etc.)?

Nicole von Kaenel: There will be a Service Pack released by the end of the year, but I don’t yet have the exact details of what will be included.

ActiveWin.com: What do you respond to those numerous users that criticize the MSPA (product activation) feature?

Nicole von Kaenel: Product Activation is designed to curb casual copying, which occurs when a user shares software with others outside the terms of the end-user license agreement (EULA). According to the SIIA, casual copying piracy accounts for up to half of all the industry's piracy losses. Product Activation has proven successful at curbing this most common form of piracy.

Microsoft designed Product Activation as a simple way to verify the software license and thwart the spread of software piracy. People who use illegal software not only hurt themselves, they also contribute to a problem that cumulatively can hurt job creation locally and regionally in the software industry and related businesses. Over time, reduced piracy means that the software industry can invest more in product development, quality and support. This ensures better products and more innovation for customers. In order to ensure a simple process, Microsoft launched a two year pilot program and received and implemented user feedback. Today, product activation is a simple process that guarantees user privacy and curbs the negative impact of software piracy.

ActiveWin.com: What role did outside beta testers play in the development of Office XP? Was this beta program larger than past versions of Office?

Nicole von Kaenel: With all beta programs, the intent is to test the product and ensure it is in excellent shape before it ships to our customers. Office XP had many thousands of beta and release candidate testers. They were involved in multiple scenarios including feature, functionality and deployment testing. In addition, some took active roles in the development of smart tags, plus in-house applications based on Office XP. This beta program was able to utilize the Error Reporting tool to help target our efforts.

ActiveWin.com: If Office XP was still in development today, what would you do differently or change now that you've seen the product released?

Nicole von Kaenel: Microsoft is pleased with the public’s response to Office XP. While we certainly allow for room to develop new features and capabilities for the product, we feel that Office XP struck a nice balance of offering the familiar environment that users know with cutting edge innovations, such as smart tags, task panes and SharePoint Team Services, which help our customers to be more productive.

ActiveWin.com: What direction do you see Office going in the future?

Nicole von Kaenel: With Office XP, new technologies such as smart tags, Send for Review and SharePoint Team Services were introduced, which enabled huge improvements in the area of custom business solutions and collaboration. Going forward, as we work on the next version of Office, you will see further innovation in both of those areas. In addition, we are always focused on both improving productivity of knowledge workers and facilitating compatibility of Office with both the Web and line of business applications.

ActiveWin.com: When the development started what main goals were set in improving Office XP over Office 2000?

Nicole von Kaenel: When development started for Office XP the main goals were to make it much easier for individuals to discover and use the functionality of Office, to offer unprecedented reliability and security improvements, and provide true integration between Office and the Web. We also wanted to improve the process of collaboration. Finally, there was a determination to provide organizations with a simpler way to access business information, enable better control over information and content management and to reduce deployment and administration costs.

ActiveWin.com: What is your favorite part of this product?

Nicole von Kaenel: I personally love smart tags. I constantly create documents that integrate content from many different sources, so the Paste Options smart tag, which allows instant formatting when cutting and pasting, saves me a significant amount of time. In addition, there are a few custom smart tags I have been using which help improve the speed of access to information. Lastly, the new speech functionality in the product is very intriguing.

ActiveWin.com: During the development of this product was there any hilarious or outlandish moments that stick out in your mind?

Nicole von Kaenel: We had a lot of fun with the demise of Clippy leading up to our launch event. There was much creative input as to what his future would hold. In addition, a few of my coworkers had the chance to pose as Clippy.

ActiveWin.com: Did the development team work frequently with different departments at Microsoft in designing/developing this product? How so?

Nicole von Kaenel: The Office XP development team worked side by side with others throughout Microsoft to make sure that the core applications of the Office family worked seamlessly with other products such as Visio, MapPoint, and Project. Additionally, Microsoft Research (MSR) made numerous contributions to Microsoft Office XP that range from tools to help programmers be more efficient throughout the development process to improved grammar checkers. Technologies from MSR also played a key role in both smart tags and Microsoft Outlook Mobile Manager, an add-on to Office that includes innovations for handling e-mail on mobile devices.

ActiveWin.com: If the next version of Office were released today, what features would you have included in it that was not included in the current version? Has development already started on the next version?

Nicole von Kaenel: The development of Office is an ongoing process. Many of the features that appeared for the first time in Office XP have been in the research and development process for several years including the ideas that led to smart tags and speech recognition. As for future versions, I will reiterate what I said when talking about the future direction of Office. Going forward, you will see further innovation in both collaboration and business solutions which use Office as a front-end. In addition, we will remain focused on both improving productivity and facilitating compatibility of Office with the Web.

ActiveWin.com: Can you tell us about the party at Microsoft the night Office XP went gold?

Nicole von Kaenel: This was an exciting day for everyone because it was a celebration of all the hard work that the development, testing, and marketing teams had put into Office XP. The celebration included all of the teams in Office plus our executives. While it was a great party it was right back to work the next day preparing for the launch on May 31st.

ActiveWin.com: Do you have anything else to add?

Nicole von Kaenel: I would like to emphasize how much I truly believe that Office XP offers many ways for our customers to both simplify the way they work and increase their productivity. I have been using Office XP for over a year now, and I would find it very difficult to switch back to my previous version.

 



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