Microsoft brought its launch event surrounding Office XP to London on Thursday, one of more than 100 events planned worldwide for the highly anticipated suite of products. Office XP is, for all the meaningless naming, the successor to Office 2000.

"It's a big product year for us and today marks the start of the XP wave," said Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's senior vice president of the Office product, rather obliquely. Microsoft is also planning to launch the Windows XP operating system and its Xbox games console later in the year.

The London launch followed the official launch of Office XP in New Zealand earlier in the day and preceded the New York launch event hosted by, get this title, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

Office XP is now available for sale in 15 countries and 35 different languages and was tested by 250,000 beta testers, said Sinofsky. Along with the Office XP release, Microsoft also announced the simultaneous UK launch of Sharepoint Portal Server, Visio 2002 and MapPoint 2002.

In what amounts to a moment of pour l'encourager les autres, here we can give visitors a taste of what guff Microsoft has handed out to journalists for years: "Visio takes the world's best diagramming and integrates it tightly with Office, while the Sharepoint Portal Server technologies are an out-of-the-box intranet. The enterprise portal product allows for building customisable intranet portals within an organisation," Sinofsky said.

Sinofsky said the two main Office XP improvements are the SharePoint Team Services, which make it easier to share documents and information on the internet and Smart Tags, a function that recognizes information when it is typed into a document and aggregates related information from other applications, an intranet or the internet.

Sadly Smart Tags seem very similar to the almost infinitely annoying Office Assistant. The standard version of Office XP will be priced at around £479.

During his presentation, Sinofsky pointed out that with Office XP Microsoft is looking to "battle information terrorists" and "combat casual piracy" by requiring new users to activate software by indicating in which country they are using the product.

"It's not really a registration but more of an activation. If a user chooses not to activate their software, after 50 launches the software will only work in view mode," Sinofsky said. It seems Microsoft has become shareware.