Microsoft Ties Office XP To Web Services

Microsoft looks to make it easier for users to access important information in desktop applications with the release of two new tools that will integrate XML Web services into Office XP.

Microsoft Corp. on Monday released two new tools that will integrate XML Web services into Office XP, its desktop productivity suite.

The Office XP Web Services Toolkit and the Smart Tag Enterprise Resource Toolkit are yet another step in the Redmond, Wash., software makers .Net strategy, and will enable developers to deliver XML Web services data directly into Office XP.

This, Microsoft officials said, will make it easier for users to access important information in the applications they use every day.

The Smart Tag Enterprise Resource Toolkit provides a roadmap on how best to plan, architect, implement and deploy robust and scalable smart tags within the enterprise, while the Office XP Web Services Toolkit enables developers to consume and apply XML Web services into Office XP, said Anders Brown, the lead product manager for Office.

"Right now our vision for the .Net platform as a whole is of smart clients talking to smart servers with XML and Web services in-between. Office is going to be one of those smart clients along with many others provided from Microsoft. So, in the short-term, Office XP now becomes a smart client to XML Web services," Brown said.

While the Office development team has a number of other longer-term initiatives in the works, Brown declined to elaborate on these except to say Microsoft would continue to invest in ideas that made Office a smart client to all the data that would be exposed.

Developers would now also be able to discover XML Web services using the standards-based UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) service and integrate them directly into Office XP solutions with a single click, he said.

"We believe that XML Web services will solve the data integration problem and essentially expose data and make it very easily accessible both within and outside an enterprise. The Office XP Web Services Toolkit now provides a simple way for a developer to search for and incorporate a Web service into their Office based application," Brown said.

For its part, the Smart Tag Enterprise Resource Toolkit helps solve the deployment and configuration issues around Smart Tags, which shipped as a feature of Office XP in May but were dropped from Windows XP.

Microsoft, with the new toolkit, now provides a framework where developers could build and manage Smart Tag configuration from a server based on user profile, Brown said.

"So, in essence what you get is the Web application deployment model combined with the richness of desktop computing provided by Smart Tags," Brown said. "End users benefit as they get a much richer way to interact with data and to leverage their desktop computer power and ultimately do their job better on a daily basis."

Many companies have traditionally customized Office for in-house use with a set of Microsoft programming tools called Visual Basic for Applications, or VBAs. The new toolkits were an add-on to the existing VBA environment.

The Office XP Web Services Toolkit, for example, simply manifests itself as an add-on under the Tools menu in the VBA environment and ultimately makes a Web service or remote call over the Internet look as simple as any standard VBA function developers had applied or were familiar with, Brown said.

"Were really trying to abstract the complexity and make using a Web service inside of Office as easy as using a local function," he said.

A pilot program to recruit partners and customers into building Office-based front-end Web services is currently underway, Brown said.

The two new tools are both available as a free download from the Microsoft Website.