Microsoft Corp. announced the next version of its Office suite and confirmed that the new product’s first technical beta has been sent to a select group of customers. The next version of Microsoft Office will be a major product release and will be the first Office suite to begin delivering on the Office.NET vision by integrating Internet-based services, enabling users to be more productive using Office with the Web. New features include: Smart Tags that appear on the screen while individuals work, providing useful information for completing tasks or accessing data; New Task Panes offer views that expose a wide range of new and popular features; Speech recognition; Hotmail and MSN Instant Messenger integration; Word Count toolbar; Application and document recovery; Document routing for review; Team workspaces; Excel and Access now support XML as a native file format and can easily import and export XML data; Extensible Smart Tag architecture; New tools for workflow and collaboration (“Tahoe”); and improved Web Components that enable Excel users to easily publish interactive Web pages that have data contained in spreadsheets, pivot tables and pivot charts.