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Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday released the first service pack for Office 2003, which is largely a collection of security and bug fixes for the entire Microsoft Office System but also contains some new feature enhancements for Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 and Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003.

Office Service Pack 1 (SP1), available for download here, also will be available on CD in early September at a fee that covers postage and packaging. The English client download is about 18MB, and the administrator version is 74MB.

“This release improves the reliability and security of our products, and we have also been able to use customer feedback and customer feedback tools to improve our products and make the enhancements to One Note and InfoPath,” Simon Marks, product manager for the Microsoft Office System, told eWEEK in a interview.

The majority of SP1 comprises bug fixes and security enhancements, essentially fixing any issues since the release of the product last year. But customer feedback about how the Redmond software maker could improve OneNote and InfoPath also has been incorporated and delivered in the service pack, with 90 percent of OneNote’s enhancements based on customer feedback.

Some of those OneNote enhancements include increased functionality around sharing and collaboration, with OneNote sessions now able to be shared in real time, allowing dynamic, live collaboration.

The interaction between OneNote and SharePoint and SharePoint Portal Server has been improved, along with its ability to work with other types of rich media, Marks said. The product can be used together with a PocketPC or Smart Phone and can record video notes, capture screen clippings and the like, he said.

“One of the biggest pieces of feedback we got was better integration with Office and to be able to directly import details from Outlook and be able to put your notes into a meeting request or the like,” Marks said.

Next Page: InfoPath improvements center on the design end.

The enhancements to InfoPath are more technical and focus on developers and the design end of InfoPath. The changes are specifically around the ability to manage the code within InfoPath.

Microsoft has added some tools so that developers who use managed code can make that work better with InfoPath. Microsoft also has added better support for XML schemas, specifically more complex XML schemas so that a developer can use multiple schemas within a form and also use ActiveX data objects.

“We have also made other small feature enhancements, like we have improved the functionality of our junk-mail filters in Outlook so that anytime a user sends an e-mail, that address is added to a safe list to prevent the reply perhaps being moved to the junk-mail folder. ”

Click here for a showdown between Office 2003 and

It is now also easier to upgrade from older versions of Access to newer versions with the Access Conversion Toolkit, which is also available Tuesday as a separate download here.

With this new set of tools and documentation, organizations can discover, evaluate and convert their Access databases as part of the upgrade process, Marks said.

Microsoft was also able to collect information about the causes of user crashes through its automated Watson tool, and has advanced tools to analyze the most common crashes and their causes. Marks added that beta tester feedback had also helped and was incorporated into SP1.

While Marks declined to say whether the release of SP1 had been delayed at all, he did say that Microsoft did not release a product until it had been fully tested and that it would be “foolish” of Microsoft to release a service pack focusing on quality and reliability before it was ready.

While the service pack is unlikely to contain any surprises for users, Marks said, Microsoft has made some improvements that support the Windows XP SP2, “which by and of itself may well have an impact on customers based on what applications they may develop on top of Windows, but we don’t foresee Office as being a particular issue with that.”

But Microsoft has delayed the release of Windows SharePoint Services SP1, as further testing was needed. “We expect this to be released shortly, but we don’t have a final date for that as yet. But we want to make sure that the quality of the release is up to scratch, and we felt that it currently hasn’t reached that level of quality,” Marks said.

Asked by eWEEK whether Microsoft expects a spike in sales and deployments of Office 2003 now that SP1 has been released, Marks said the company does not expect to see a “significant speed bump” in sales.

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