Microsoft today launches the 2003 versions of its Office and Exchange software.
The product, used across virtually all UK businesses, received a lukewarm greeting from users and analysts as Computer Weekly went to press.
Microsoft has high hopes for both products, which it said would provide the foundation for collaborative computing and the next stage in its .net strategy
Improvements in Office include a tool to design and use electronic forms and portal software allowing companies to distribute documents.
Neil Laver, Microsoft Office group marketing manager , said: "We're hoping with this release to change the way people build enterprise applications."
The XML internet data code in both Office and Exchange will form a key component of Microsoft's .net web services architecture for sharing data with enterprise applications such as SAP and Siebel.
The launch comes at a time when IT departments are struggling to justify expenditure on technology that is not essential to the business.
Some users have said new features in the packages were not compelling enough to justify the cost of an upgrade.
MG Rover IT director Peter Vetch, a user of Office 2000 and Exchange 2000 for more than two years, said, "We are experiencing no pressure from our users for upgrades."
Jenny Sener, IT director at facilities management company OCS, said, "The majority of our users run Word. A few use Powerpoint and Excel. I do not see any added value in upgrading."
Pete Smith, IT manager at satellite communications operator Inmarsat, said he could not justify the cost of upgrading from his Exchange 5.5-based network to the new version.
An important issue for Microsoft is to move users off unsupported software, such as Exchange 5.5 even though standard support for it will end on 31 December.
Gartner analyst Maurene Caplan Grey said users were putting off the upgrade from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2003 because of the cost and complexity. Gartner estimated the average cost of moving to Exchange 2003, including retraining IT staff and upgrading hardware, to be between £59 and £89 per desktop: a company with 1,000 e-mail users could spend more than £100,000, it said.
Nigel Posting, engagement manager in Microsoft consulting business, would not be drawn on the cost of upgrading Exchange 5.5. He said users could reduce the cost of upgrading by taking advantage of new licensing terms based on the number of users rather than devices.