At an annual CEO meeting at Micosoft’s Redmond, Washington campus, chairman Bill Gates gave a fairly simple (if difficult to implement) directive that businesses should do more to guard against information overload for their employees while increasing productivity.

Taking the realities of the new “Age of Information” to task, Gates said workers weren’t skilled enough or given the resources to deal with the steady and cumbersome levels of information they have to deal with every day.

"It's overwhelming," said Gates. "Nobody's paid to do search or just find information. At the end of the day you're paid for designing a new product, having a satisfied customer and doing that with the minimum amount of time, the minimum amount of people."

The best way to address this issue, Gates wrote, was to help IT workers “focus, prioritize and apply their expertise, visualize and understand key data, and reduce the amount of time they spend dealing with the complexity of an information-rich environment."
While that sounds easier said than done, Gates went on to describe the steps Microsoft is taking to address these issues, specifically the upcoming “Office 12,” as it is called for now, scheduled for release in 2006.
"The design focuses on five general areas that customers have identified as important needs: individual impact, collaboration, knowledge discovery and insight, enterprise content lifecycle, and information solution IT fundamentals." he said.
In dummy terms, Office 12 will be a software that understands the need for prioritizing and will allow users to minimize their interruptions. For example, if there is a tight deadline, the program could be instructed to only allow calls and emails from managers and family members.
Chris Capossela, vice president of Microsoft's Office product management group, highlighted some more features of the vaguely presented software. One concept is “virtual workspaces” that allow project team members update documents and keep track of project related emails.
"Integrating familiar Microsoft Office tools with enterprise resource management systems will become easier, and developers also can create rich applications for specialized industry needs," Caposella said.
Office 12 will support more XML standards, enabling beter integration of back-end to front-end applications.
Next month, Microsoft will release Office Communicator, which will bundle email and instant messaging services, and also provide toggling capabilities to switch between video chats and text messaging.