On my flight home from Boston last night, I was reading the New York Times review of MS Office 2003.  The net-net of the article -- the core applications are hardly worth upgrading, but the changes to Outlook alone make the upgrade worth it.
I don't dispute that Microsoft has done some things to improve Outlook in 2003.  But I learned something about prior versions of Outlook that I never knew before:

This is a big deal: no longer do the huddled masses have to hunt for the Inbox and Sent folders because Outlook, idiotically, buries them alphabetically among the other folders.
What?  The inbox doesn't appear at the top of the folder list in Outlook 97-2002?  That's the supposed "ease-of-use" that people have been complaining to me about for all these years????  Even cc:Mail had this right -- the most frequently used container should be at the top.  Apparently, they've finally figured this out.  Actually, there's a lot of usability things in Outlook 2003 that seem, shockingly, borrowed from Lotus Notes.  Amazing.

Putting that aside, the meta-level issue raised by the article (from my perspective) is really interesting.  Customers who are on three-year SA upgrade contracts with Microsoft are getting minimal new features in the core products that they pay hundreds of dollars per user per year in maintenance fees.  It's no wonder Microsoft is focused on adding everything but the kitchen sink to the Office brand -- it's a distraction from the fact that the Office apps actually covered by that subscription are not delivering the kind of incremental value anyone is paying for.  I guarantee that the launch demos next month will be all about SharePoint (both versions), Office Live, InfoPath, OneNote, and Outlook/Exchange.  If you even see any demo of Word/Excel/Powerpoint, it will be in the context of using these additional (and additional $$$, in most cases) applications.

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