With a limited group of testers receiving the first Microsoft Office 11 beta release this week, details are now emerging about the capabilities and new features in the software giant's next office productivity suite. But a new limitation, rather than any feature, is getting all the attention right now: Office 11 Beta 1 will only install and run on Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3) and Windows XP, leaving hundreds of millions of Windows 9x/Me users in the lurch. A Microsoft engineer told testers that the company is dropping Windows 9x/Me compatibility for security and schedule reasons, but many testers questioned that decision in an online forum this week.
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"There were a number of reasons for removing support for Windows 9x," wrote Sload Crayton, who supports Office 11 testers for Microsoft. "As a number of you have noted, Windows 98 and 98 SE are getting a bit old now. It also relates heavily to the push to improve security in our products. Windows 9x is inherently insecure. We understand that this decision won't be popular among all of our customers, but it allows us to create a better and more stable product." There are also a number of reasons to continue supporting Windows 9x, however, chief among them the fact that over 50 percent of the company's customers are still using those operating systems. This has led to charges that Microsoft is forcing users to upgrade their OS if they want the new Office.
Crayton also noted that supporting 9x/Me would increase Office 11's development time, which could become problematic because the company already announced a set development schedule for the product, which will ship in mid-2003. "It also takes quite a bit of development time to make our products work well on Windows 9x," he wrote to testers. "We determined that it would be more effective to spend that time making our products work better on the more advanced platforms." Finally, Office 11 requires Windows Installer 2.0, which is only available on Win2K SP3 and XP. This version of the installer application is less prone to require reboots after Office is installed, and results in smaller installation sets, Crayton wrote.
Despite reports that 9x support in Office 11 is dead, the company says it is still evaluating the possibility of adding back that support. "At this point we're still doing testing," a Microsoft spokesperson said Tuesday. "No final decisions have been made on support yet."