Microsoft will give certain Office Standard Edition users the right to order Office Professional Edition applications at no extra cost when it releases Office 2003.
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The company will also offer a "step-up licence" to upgrade to the full Office Professional suite.
Both offers apply only to volume licence buyers who bought a right to upgrade to Office 2003 Standard Edition from earlier editions, either through Software Assurance or its predecessor, Upgrade Advantage.
Microsoft hoped the offers would entice customers to switch to the more expensive Office Professional Edition, but also aimed to satisfy customers who may have been disappointed by its move to further differentiate the Office editions.
Traditionally, the only difference between standard and professional versions of Office was the applications included in the suite. That is changing with the release of Office 2003 later this year. Now there will also be differences in features. For example, applications in Office 2003 Professional Edition will support customer-defined Extensible Markup Language (XML) schemas and information rights management, whereas the Standard Edition applications will not.
Existing Office Standard Edition users who bought upgrade rights before 31 March and have renewed them by 31 March 2004, will get perpetual rights to use the professional versions of Word 2003, Excel 2003, PowerPoint 2003 and Outlook 2003 without extra charge.
Users who want the full Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003 can hand in their Standard Edition licence and get a Professional Edition licence by paying the price difference, Microsoft said. The Professional Edition also includes the InfoPath XML authoring tool and Outlook with Business Contact Manager.
The step-up licence will go on sale on 1 September and will be available for a year. Microsoft did not offer such an option in the past, forcing customers who wanted to upgrade to buy a completely new licence.
Microsoft has done the right thing, said Julie Giera, a vice president and research fellow at Forrester Research.
"They have provided customers a transition path giving access to the Professional Edition without having to buy a brand-new licence and losing the investment in the Standard Edition," she said.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service