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The Beast, MS Office 2003, and the Big Nada

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Microsoft had a big surprise for The Register on Monday. After an 11 hour flight to San Francisco to attend the Microsoft Office 2003 Reviewer's Workshop (no, we don't know why either) the Beast hit us with the Big NDA. Surprise...!

Actually, although it is effectively a big NDA, it's one of the smallest and weirdest we've ever seen. "Workshop attendees will be under Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) until March 2003. The NDA covers all presentations, conversations and materials handed out during the workshop."

And that's it, folks. No signature required, nothing else. Journalists accept NDAs on a case by case basis, depending on subject matter, timing and conditions, but we like a little notice, we like them fairly specific, and we don't like them when they cover a lot of stuff that we know already or is in the public domain. Badly-worded catch-alls apparently minted on the spur of the moment by some demented control freak, we don't like at all, and usually don't agree. Control freaks get unreasonably annoyed and suspicious when you start writing about stuff that you knew already, but you were told again under NDA, and the atmosphere of distrust generated is bad for business. So, 11 hour flight at The Beast's expense, we show up, look at the NDA, politely decline, spin on our heel and have a couple of days holiday in San Francisco?

It was tempting, but the weather didn't look too promising, so having first taken the precaution of obtaining the date on which the NDA came off from an unwary Microsoft spinmeister, then telling somebody else when it was, and therefore when we could infer that Beta 2 of Office 2003 would ship (corroboration, friends), we walked through that door.

We are unable to confirm that there was anything that one might term a reviewer's workshop on the other side of that door, or indeed that there was anything at all on the other side, even a room. We do not, as IBM used to say so splendidly, speculate about architectural features whose existence may or may not be announced at some future date. We do not comment on undisclosed architectural features.

We can however confirm our continued existence, and you may therefore wish to speculate yourself about the likelihood of a floor or similar feature existing beyond that door. Here however is more or less where we must leave off that side of the story. Aside from noting, as you no doubt had already, that the NDA just says March, and it's March on Saturday. But we journalists are bound by honour above law, and will therefore respect the intent of an NDA, while not necessarily respecting its demented control-freak author.

So March 10th it is, we learned that before, and that surely has to be when Office 2003 Beta 2 goes out, which we concluded before. Is it already finished? Yes, it's already finished, that's in the public domain already. So why isn't it out now? Documentation, friends, the supporting documentation is not ready. That too is in the public domain already, and was confirmed by Microsoft sources in conversations which did not take place during any workshop which may or may not have taken place (you starting to get the hang of this yet?)

These sources also tell us that it wasn't Microsoft's original intention to release Beta 2 to the press at this juncture, but that the company felt it had to move early, even without supporting documentation, after Beta 2 briefly escaped earlier this month. It's out there, people could get it if they tried, so Microsoft had to make the best of a bad job and manage an 'official' release as best it could. Naturally we can't confirm whether or not we were given a copy of Beta 2, and if we had been we certainly couldn't write about it until March 10th. But you may speculate some more, you devil...

It's an interesting innovation. The Register didn't actually write about the leak of Beta 2 on the basis that Microsoft betas leak all the time, and we've got bored with having to say so every time it leaks. As we said to company reps in conversations outside of the presentation (which we still do not confirm actually took place), the sun rises in the morning, Microsoft beta code leaks, and life goes on. Whatever, if Microsoft flies you to San Francisco and hands you the CD every time a beta leaks, then a new build of Server having leaked just the other day, we expect to be back in San Francisco again next week.

But the weather seems to be improving at last, it's 24 hours till we fly out, so now we can check in online, giving BA plenty time to send all our personal details to Washington, then go for a stroll and a shop in the sun. No special meal preferences, Mr Poindexter, but we try to avoid seafood from airline caterers. ®

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