Most companies hate competing against Microsoft Corp. -- including, it turns out, Microsoft itself.
Even more so than with Windows, the software titan is its own worst rival as it tries to sell updates of its popular Office productivity software. Many computer users are content to write letters and balance budgets on versions several iterations old.
So when Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates came to Los Angeles on Tuesday to unveil Office 12, due in 2006, he touted features that some analysts said might entice holdouts to upgrade.
Perhaps the most notable improvement: better help finding features that have long been part of Office, which includes the Word word processor, Excel spreadsheet and Outlook e-mail program.
No, the company is not resurrecting Clippy, the perpetually perky paper clip from a few versions ago that offered assistance at every click.
Instead, Office 12 menus will change based on what a user is doing.
Pictures will help explain some of the 1,500 commands that Word alone can process. And users will get a little more instant gratification. Blocks of text, for example, will temporarily change appearance as a user moves the cursor over different typefaces.
"This is going to be the first version in a long time that consumers sit up and take notice of," said Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
Microsoft certainly hopes so. The unit that produces Office accounted for more than a quarter of Microsoft's $40 billion in revenue last year.
In an interview, Gates said he hoped the streamlining wouldn't alienate too many of Office's 400 million users.
"It's a risky thing to change the interface of the world's most popular application," Gates said. "You'll get some element of shock."