A refresh of the Microsoft Office 2003 Beta 2 build will likely push the product suite's release date to late summer or early fall, sources at the software giant told me this weekend. But in an official statement about the refresh, a Microsoft spokesperson noted that the company is no longer sticking to arbitrary schedules and will instead release the product when it meets customer needs. "Microsoft's first commitment is to quality and doing right by our customers, and if that means adjusting our (shipment) targets, then that's what we'll do," she said. The delay might affect the release of Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 as well because that product will ship with the version of Outlook that's included in Office 2003.

"We consider the beta 2 release of the Microsoft Office System a success, and based on the feedback we are making a number of improvements to the Beta 2 versions of the Office System products," a Microsoft representative told me last week. "To make sure customers have the chance to look at the changes we've made in response to their feedback, later this spring Microsoft is going to refresh the beta 2 code for the Microsoft Office System. We anticipate that this will be done through a downloadable patch, details to come. We still expect to \[release Office 2003 to manufacturing\] this summer."

Office 2003, the first major refresh of the Office suite in several years to feature new applications (Microsoft InfoPath and Microsoft OneNote in this case), will also include new product versions and an add-on for Visual Studio .NET 2003 that lets developers create mini-applications hosted inside Microsoft Word and other Office applications. Microsoft released beta 1 in October 2002 and issued beta 2 in March 2003.