Microsoft Corporation offered a sneak peek of Office 9 to reporters on Thursday, and said that the product, now in limited beta testing, was expected to be released by year's end. Office 9 will rely heavily on Web and networking technologies so that users can easily share documents over the Internet. While previous Office releases have clearly resembled each other, Office 9 will be a radical departure, product managers said. For starters, the various elements of Office will be completely componentized so that users can install only the parts they need; Office 9 will be distributed and managed from a central server on networks now as well.

And though Office 9 will be componentized, it will still require a hefty amount of hard drive space. Product manager Matthew Price said Office 9 will take up "at least as much disk space as Office 97" (about 160MB for a full install). "\[The size of the install\] is decreasing in importance for our customers because hard drives are growing in size," Price said.

Web enhancements to Office 9 include full support for XML, real-time Web-based document collaboration support, and integration with Windows NT 5.0 and Internet Information Server 5.0, Microsoft's next Web server.

A new version of IntelliSense that ships with Office 9 will allow users to add features to their install directly from a network server. IntelliSense will also monitor the user's interaction with Office and add enhancements that the user would need.

Office 9 will also be self-repairing, a feature that first showed up in Office 98 for the Macintosh. This feature will allow the suite to automatically replace missing or corrupt files that it needs to run. Office 9 will also be multilingual, or as Microsoft says, "worldwide ready.