Microsoft began public demonstrations of its next Office suite this week at the PC Expo tradeshow in New York. Now officially named Office 2000, Microsoft said the suite would begin beta testing this July with over 20,000 testers, about 10 times the usual number. The company is hoping to ship it in late 1998, but an early 1999 release is likely.

"We made lowering the total cost of ownership and simple upgrades of Office the number one priority for the development team," said Jon DeVaan, VP of desktop applications at Microsoft.

HTML has been integrated into the suite and is now a "companion format" to the more familiar Office file formats. Office users will be able to save documents as HTML files and choose a Web server as the target save location so that files can be easily distributed over the Internet. New Web component technology will let users edit Office 2000 documents right in their Web browsers, even if the document is on a remote Web server.

"Office 2000 is being designed to help customers turn information into an asset. Office 2000 will break existing barriers, making information easy to find, view and secure, by extending Office to the Web," said DeVaan. "Since Office has become so critical to our customers, we're planning a broad first beta so they can test Office 2000 in their existing environments."

One thing you definitely won't be seeing in the next version of Office is voice recognition. Microsoft says the technology just isn't ready, despite the fact that competitors--including Corel WordPerfect--are adding the feature to their next products.

"We believe in \[voice recognition\], but it's not ready for prime time," said Microsoft Office product manager Matthew Price. "Voice recognition is in the experimental phase. With 90% accuracy rates, that's one out of every 10 words wrong. We're not going to do it.