21.10.03

This email will self-destruct in 20 seconds………

Today Microsoft is launching the latest version of it's Office Suite in New York. This time around, they have concentrated on making the software easier to use, instead of adding more features. "Information overload is a big problem at the moment," said Mike Pryke-Smith, marketing manager at Microsoft, "and this is one of the problems we have tried to tackle with this product."

One of the key changes is the Orwellian-sounding Information Rights Management. Microsoft says this is in response to concerns from its customers about how to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. It reflects the increasing use in companies of electronic means like e-mail discuss sensitive financial or business information. "Forwarding is obviously the key issue," said Mr Pryke-Smith. "This puts control into the hands of the person sending the e-mail, as opposed to allowing the proliferation of messages."

One of the most infamous examples of this was the case of Claire Swire. She became a laughing stock around the world in a matter of days after sending a sexually explicit message to her boyfriend. He then forwarded it to a handful of friends, and the message spread around the world in a matter of hours. In Office 2003, people can limit who else can open, edit, copy or even print a document. You can even set a time limit on it, so that a document will 'self-destruct' after a set period, though a copy will most likely remain on a central server. The rights management feature, like many of the others in Office 2003, is squarely aimed at businesses. But one aspect that will interest the home user is what Microsoft is doing to stop junk e-mails.

Microsoft has sought to respond to its critics by including automatic spam filtering, which analyses a message to try to work out whether it is junk. The 2003 version also has lets you build a blacklist of senders to block, as well as a safe list of people whose messages you want to receive. More significantly, Outlook can automatically block images embedded in e-mails, a common tactic used by spammers. The image is not actually in the e-mail itself but has to be downloaded from a website, thus showing that an e-mail address is valid and it could mean more junk.

Microsoft has also tweaked Word, Excel and Powerpoint, though the most obvious change is a new, blue colour scheme.

Read about this here and here.

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