Though a few Office applications will get mild refreshes early in 1998 (such as Outlook and Project, which will bear the 98 moniker), the big news for fans of Microsoft Office is that the next release, Office 99, is due late next year and will offer major changes. Office currently owns well over 70% of the productivity applications market and is responsible for over half of Microsoft's revenues.

"We haven't done as good a job as we should have to keep our products simple," says Jon DeVaan, vice-president of the Microsoft's desktop applications division. "But it is now the number one priority of our development team for the next version of Office."

First on the list is a new self-repair feature, also expected in future releases of Windows NT, that will allow Office to detect damaged or missing files. It will prompt the user for the Office CD-ROM so that the correct file can be reinstalled. Office will also fix incorrect Registry entries automatically.

An "installation on demand" feature will allow system administrators to define a minimal Office install on a network and then have other files automatically installed to user's machines, when needed, over the network.

Also planned is a completely automated server-side install feature that will run Office 99 from a central server without needing any files to be stored on the client machine. This is aimed at Windows Terminals running Windows CE 2.0 and NetPC machines.

When Office 97 was released, Microsoft received a lot of heat from users angered that the company had released new file formats for most of the Office applications. Microsoft defends this move as a "necessary evil" and promises not to change them again for Office 99.