New Office locks down documents

As digital media publishers scramble to devise a foolproof method of copy protection, Microsoft is ready to push digital rights management into a whole new arena--your desktop. Office 2003, the upcoming update of the company's market-dominating productivity package, for the first time will include tools for restricting access to documents created with the software. Office workers can specify who can read or alter a spreadsheet, block it from copying or printing, and set an expiration date. The technology is one of the first major steps in Microsoft's plan to popularize Windows Rights Management Services, a wide-ranging plan to make restricted access to information a standard part of business processes.

Analysts say it represents a badly needed new avenue for boosting sales of Microsoft's server software and an opportunity to lock out competitors, including older versions of Office. It also gives businesses that skipped on the last round or two of Office upgrades a new reason to bite this time.

"If Office 2003 was just another incremental upgrade, they'd have a hard time getting businesses interested," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Jupiter Research. "For most people, the pinnacle of functionality in Office applications came in 1995. But there are more things that can be done using Office as a platform for delivering new services." The new rights management tools splinter to some extent the long-standing interoperability of Office formats. Until now, PC users have been able to count on opening and manipulating any document saved in Microsoft Word's ".doc" format or Excel's ".xls" in any compatible program, including older versions of Office and competing packages such as Sun Microsystems' StarOffice and the open-source OpenOffice. But rights-protected documents created in Office 2003 can be manipulated only in Office 2003.

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News source: news.com

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