The second half of the alleged "Office NGO" animation is a bit more controversial than the first half, mostly because it suddenly veers off into an unlikely subscription-based scenario. Don't get me wrong, I fully expect Microsoft to ply the subscription waters with the next version of Office. But the choices offered here are almost incoherent:

1. Purchase the Office NGO Professional suite, as always, at retail and then optionally decide to subscribe to Office services on a yearly basis.

2. Purchase a new subscription-only version of the Office NGO Professional suite and the online Office services together. Both the Office product and its associated services would work for one year, after which time you could renew the subscription for another year, pay a set dollar amount to upgrade the subscription version of the suite to the "normal" version and eschew the online services, or just let the subscription suite sit on your hard drive and work in reduced functionality mode.

Both options are troubling. In the first scenario, you buy Office but don't get access to "updates and upgrades" unless you subscribe to the online services(!). In the second option, they actually establish an upgrade cost ($329) but never mention what the cost of the initial subscription will be.

The Office NGO animation, part two
Here is the second half of the demonstration animation.

The obvious question here is whether this animation is authentic. That is, was this animation originally made by Microsoft? The following thoughts came immediately to mind:

  • In the Outlook screenshots, the taskbar text ("Filter Applied - 1107 Items - Send/Receive Status 0%") never changes, regardless of whether Outlook is viewing Alerts (part of an Email account) or Calendar. What this tells me is that they are not really screenshots, but mock-ups. This doesn't make them real or fake.
  • Looking through the text, and listening to the voice-over, there are no obvious mistakes. That is, there are no obvious spelling or grammar errors, which you'd expect to see in a fake. Again, if it is fake, they did a good job.
  • The UI is bogus. But then the UI in Office XP is bogus too. And it's just a concept, so that could change. I always expected the next Office version to visually resemble Windows XP: The Task Panes would look like the Windows XP Task Panes, there'd be lots of blue and green, and so on. This "theme," or whatever it is, is definitely pretty ugly. But it clearly doesn't represents the final UI (assuming it's real, of course). One thing to remember about the Office team: They always go their own way with the UI. They use different menus and toolbars than Windows and other apps do, etc., and probably always will.
  • The feature set is rather lame, isn't it? But then, the feature set in Office XP is rather lame too. I had hoped to see something really compelling in Office .NET, but I don't see it here. On the other hand, this animation doesn't discuss any Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or FrontPage features at all. Clearly, this is just an overview of the online integration and subscription possibilities, which are sure to be the big controversies if this comes to pass.
  • My first reaction to this animation being in Flash format was ... why Flash? Microsoft has Web and application presentation technologies. Why would they use Flash? I don't know why, though it's possible someone converted the animation to Flash later.
  • The UI for the New Meeting windows is from Office XP and appears unchanged, less a few new check boxes (compare this to the main Outlook window, which has been themed). Again, this reeks of a mock-up, though that doesn't make this real or fake.
  • The subscription offerings shown in part two are so confusing at first that I had to review it a few times to even understand what they were talking about (that's also why I separate this preview into two parts). I can't imagine how average consumers are going to react to this. And what about corporate licensing options?

As noted in Part One, Jim Adams over at Vibrant Logic told me that Microsoft asked them to remove links to the original Shockwave animation, noting that it was an "unauthorized release of an MS concept piece," suggesting that the animation did indeed originate from Microsoft. I've also received a few emails from people who have reportedly been briefed on Microsoft's Office .NET plans and they seem to think this falls within the bounds of what is possible. Others, of course, believe the animation to be a fake and wondered how I could publish such a thing. I found it too well done to not publish it, and if it's fake, then "bravo" to the perpetrators.

So I'm still not sure whether this is real. But it sure is interesting.