REDMOND, Wash. — April 28, 2009 — As part of its efforts to continually improve its products and make them more useful for customers, Microsoft periodically releases update packages known as "service packs." Service packs deliver product updates and selected enhancements, without the complete overhaul of releasing a new version.
Today the availability of Service Pack 2 (SP2) for the 2007 Microsoft Office system was announced. The service pack includes major performance enhancements for Office applications, most notably Microsoft Office Outlook, as well as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. One big benefit is SP2's boost to interoperability — with this release, Office supports additional built-in file formats such as PDF and ODF.
PressPass talked with Jane Liles, group program manager, Office Sustained Engineering, to discuss what customers can expect from Service Pack 2, how the improvements will provide added value, and how Microsoft is increasing its commitment to interoperability.
PressPass: Why should someone download this service pack for Office 2007?
Liles: This release builds on customer feedback and offers enhanced stability for Outlook, calendaring reliability, and many more improvements to applications that run on both PCs and servers. Microsoft has also been working hard to build interoperability into its products across the board, and so Office now also includes additional file-format support, which makes it much easier for customers to work with different file formats in the same application.
PressPass: What are the main improvements that customers will notice with SP2?
Liles: Users should notice the improved performance and stability of Outlook, better charting functionality in Excel, and more control over the appearance of SmartArt graphics.
On the server side, IT professionals will notice several enhancements to the security and performance of SharePoint Server 2007, including support for read-only content databases, improvements to forms-based authentication, and an STSADM command-line utility that enables administrators to scan sites that use the variations feature for errors. SharePoint Server will also feature better support for newer versions of the Firefox browser.
Also, having a wider array of file-format choices should really benefit customers. With SP2, Office 2007 now has built-in support for Open XML, ODF and PDF, along with the dozen or so other formats that were already supported in Office 2007.
PressPass: Why did Microsoft put so much effort into supporting those other formats?
Liles: Our customers have complex needs that no single vendor can address, so we need to be collaborative with the rest of the industry and make our products as interoperable as possible. At Microsoft, our approach includes open protocols, APIs, published documentation about our implementation of document-format standards, and built-in support for the widest set of document formats in the industry. This approach allows customers to choose the best document format for the job at hand.
In addition to the support for additional file formats, SP2 also includes the Open XML Format External File Converter. This allows developers to make any third-party document format a first-class citizen in Office. This means Office will support most government-preferred formats, and can easily be made to support any others that come along.
PressPass: There has been a beta of SP2 available for a while now. What kind of feedback did you get from beta customers?
Liles: Well, first I should call out that the beta was invaluable in helping us produce this service pack. Betas give us a chance to test our engineering work with real customers to ensure we're hitting the mark. This was the largest beta we've done to date for an Office service pack, with thousands of beta testers from over 60 countries spanning a variety of company sizes. So the beta gave us a unique opportunity to ensure that our changes address real customer needs, especially for key products like Outlook. Our beta testers also provided us with some excellent feedback that resulted in real improvements to the service pack code and documentation.
PressPass: People spend a lot of time with Outlook specifically. What have you done to improve that experience?
Liles: Outlook is where a large percentage of our users spend the majority of their work time. It's critical that the application provide the experience that they expect and need to get their work done. Outlook 2007 SP2 is 26 percent faster than its predecessor on a set of common e-mail tasks and is even faster, 35 percent, with larger mailboxes. Users will experience considerable responsiveness and speed improvements on common, day-to-day operations like launching, synchronizing and searching. We were excited to be able to act on as much of the customer feedback as we did.
PressPass: Where can customers get the SP2 and additional information?
Liles: Customers can download SP2 right away. In addition, Microsoft will release SP2 via Microsoft Update's automatic update mechanism no sooner than three months from now, and with at least 30 days notice, which aligns with our prior established policy.