Microsoft says it will publicly launch the beta 2 release of various Microsoft Office 2003 applications--now collectively branded as Microsoft Office System--on March 20, as part of the Office team's most extensive marketing program ever. More than 500,000 worldwide customers will be able to test Office 2003 Beta 2, which includes the 2003 editions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, and FrontPage and introduces two new programs--Microsoft InfoPath and Microsoft OneNote. Office 2003 Beta 2 also includes new releases of Windows SharePoint Services (formerly SharePoint Team Services) and various Microsoft-hosted services. Technical betas for other Office System products, including Microsoft Visio, Project, and Project Server, are in the planning stages. My review of Office 2003 Beta 2 will be available next week on the SuperSite for Windows .

Evidence of Microsoft's branding changes for Office were available in previous beta releases, but the Office System branding is new with beta 2. "The new Microsoft Office brand is a key element of our effort to shift perceptions of Office from a set of programs for document creation to a platform for information work that includes desktop programs, servers, and services," an internal Microsoft document reads. "This marks just the beginning of our ongoing effort to position the Office System as a strategic business asset and to communicate and deliver on a broader promise to the world." In addition, Microsoft has changed the names of all Office System products to reflect the new branding; Word is now called Office Word 2003 and so on.

Office 2003 Beta 2 includes the following features and applications:
   - Digital ink support for the Tablet PC--Beta 2's full support for the Tablet PC's digital-ink features means that users can use handwriting to quickly input data into Office documents.
   - Office OneNote 2003--OneNote is a note capture and organization tool and one of the newest members of the Office System.
   - Office InfoPath 2003--InfoPath streamlines and controls information gathering so that user teams and organizations can reuse data across business processes and organizations. InfoPath provides native support for XML, XML Web services, and customer-defined XML schemas, and allows dynamic rich authoring and built-in validation through a WYSIWIG environment, Microsoft says.
   - Office Outlook 2003--Outlook adds new spam filters, extensive calendar updates, and other new features to the email and personal information manager (PIM) application.
   - Office Word 2003--In addition to its support for Information Rights Management (IRM) technology, XML document support, and digital ink, Word now lets you lock down styles so that the documents you send to other users remain written and formatted the way you intended.
   - Office PowerPoint 2003--PowerPoint gains new Smart Tag support, the ability to use a Tablet PC's digital ink to annotate slides, thesaurus access, support for new playlist formats, full-screen video support, and the new Package For CD feature.
   - Office Access 2003--Access can now back up Jet databases directly from within the application, take advantage of new Smart Tags to correct entries when autocorrect scenarios are activated, and easily keep track of dependent objects when renaming or deleting objects.
   - Windows SharePoint Services--Windows SharePoint Services lets document owners create Web sites for information sharing and document collaboration.
   - Office Online Services--Office 2003 includes an improved online interface and new-and-improved Office Web services that are more powerful and better integrated.