Office 12 Is Still Developing

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2005-10-24 Print this article Print

Microsoft's wooing of developers to build custom applications by extending its Office "12" platform is as crucial as any such campaign in the company's history.

Microsoft Corp.s wooing of developers to build custom applications by extending its Office "12" platform is as crucial as any such campaign in the companys history.

Microsoft can reasonably hope to engage application developers with core technologies such as its WWF (Windows Workflow Foundation), with obviously useful ideas such as shareable repositories of PowerPoint charts and other data, and with the strikingly fresh combination of a reinvented user interface and a more robust model of extensibility for its productivity applications.

Developers must wonder, though, if any such flowers-and-candy pitch should be gently turned down in favor of the low barriers to deployment, the negligible administrative workload and the ease of access to emerging non-PC client devices that developers can enjoy with Web-based models for their custom applications.

Office 12 might be the best thick client ever conceived, but perhaps a compelling thick-client solution is no longer conceivable.

Developers have become accustomed to sitting at a table thats set with a variety of tools, including everything from agile scripting languages to mature and vendor-neutral database languages, as well as a variety of ways to implement core business logic. Microsoft proposes to replace that place setting with the spork of managed code in its .Net Framework.

Click here to read about Microsoft offering developers a simpler, more efficient licensing scheme for its Shared Source program. Like that ingenious and convenient box-lunch or backpackers utensil, managed code (chiefly the C# language, in practice) lets its users do many things without having to put down one tool and pick up another. Microsofts integration of database access with its LINQ (Language Integrated Query) technology and its seamless drill-down into the code that does the low-level work offer substantial productivity benefits.

It would be difficult to overstate the opportunities, subject to the constraints of choosing a single thick-client platform, that come from combining LINQ with Microsofts deep-dyed embrace of XML. Pieces of data from anywhere in the enterprise, along with accompanying behaviors likewise rendered as XML strings, will afford developers the easy inspection and mutability of text—while manifesting themselves to users with only their relevant properties exposed. An object on a form, for example, might look like a mere static graphic to an artist using one tool but might offer drill-down access into underlying code to a developer—while both would be working with the same XML entity behind the scenes.

Microsofts Office 12 developer technologies look good in demonstrations, with their ease of transforming a sketch of an idea into a working application. But it remains to be seen whether developers will choose these technologies in spite of concerns about the performance, flexibility, ability to deploy their work to new environments and cost-effectiveness of reaching any user with an Internet connection, as future applications will demand.

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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