Friday night, several testers sent word that the beta test for the next version of Microsoft Office--code-named Office 10--has begun. Office 10 is a steppingstone to a future Office.NET product, and, as such, it will offer a number of .NET features, including Smart Links and a new Digital Dashboard portal. But Office 10 will be functionally similar to Office 2000 rather than a completely new product.

"The next version of the world's leading desktop productivity suite will be an exciting opportunity for our customers and partners as we move toward our Office.NET vision," said Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Microsoft's Business Productivity Group, at a financial analysts' meeting last month. "The \[Office 10\] innovations will make it easy for our customers to include Web services in their everyday use of Office applications and work seamlessly with others."

Microsoft is quietly developing a set of Office-related technologies that will eventually replace the desktop-based Office products. But Office 10, which will likely debut as Office 2001 when it ships late this year, will be firmly rooted in the desktop world while offering limited hooks to the Web services Microsoft is designing as part of its Microsoft .NET initiative. Office 10 also supports voice recognition, a feature that was first reported in WinInfo Daily UPDATE this February. You'll be able to navigate around the PC with commands such as open, save, and send, but you'll also be able to dictate letters, email, and other Office documents. "\[In Office 10\] we're dealing with basic technology that makes the interface of \[the\] various programs more attractive and user-friendly using speech technology," says Lernout and Hauspie (L&H) director Bernard Vergnes, whose company developed the technology for Microsoft