As Microsoft Corp. prepares to release the first beta for Office 11, the next version of its pervasive Office productivity suite, Jeff Raikes, its group vice president of productivity and business services, sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli at the companys Mountain View, Calif., campus to talk about the changes users can expect to see.
eWEEK: You have talked about pushing Office to vertical markets. Can you tell me what your plans are in that regard?
Raikes: There is the opportunity to reconfigure what people think of the suite of products today for segments like small business or the consumer environment or the home. Thats not really vertical to me, but it is to some people. Relative to real vertical functionality, I dont see us innately doing this. … Its not like were coming out with a specific distribution of Office for the legal market. It already has a lot of features for that market. But what we are doing that is very exciting is using XML capabilities more fully in the next major release such that the Office tools become a way to connect into functionality that will be specific to certain verticals. For example, we were just reviewing the idea of Excel accepting information done in a schema for financial reporting, so you can compare different companies. Theres a vertical characteristic to that, but its not a specific product for that. Today we have a small-business version [and a] student and teacher license edition, but there will be nothing beyond this. But there are things that people will do that will supplement Office for various vertical industries.
eWEEK: You have identified the business intelligence arena as an area of huge opportunity for Office. Can you be more specific about your plans in that regard?
Raikes: The challenge today with business intelligence is that it frequently ends up being the domain of a few people inside the organization. My view in part is that theres a big opportunity to make business intelligence more accessible, and one of the key ways to do that is to make it much more connected into the Office tools people are already using. So, if I can go from a SharePoint Portal site to look at a scorecard that leads me into an Excel solution that connects to Data Analyzer and then am able to e-mail this off to my sales team, then Ive really opened up business intelligence to something thats more accessible. Our goal is not to cannibalize the business of companies in business intelligence today; our goal is to help business intelligence become more accessible. The way to do that is to get the Office tools connected to the systems that represent that information.
eWEEK: So what are we going to see in Office 11 that makes that happen?
Raikes: A very good example is the support of arbitrary schemas, XML schemas, because XML becomes a way to open up Office to access that information.
eWEEK: You have said a goal of yours is to allow people to extract data from various systems and then run it through analytical programs to produce reports to guide their decisions. Where are you with that?
Raikes: Office 11 is a big step forward in this regard because of the arbitrary schema approach, where you have a standard schema for reporting financial information and immediately be able to access that data without massaging it. In Word too, which is a tool people use to create content. If you can have access to XML schema associated with content databases within your organization, you can dramatically pull that boilerplate text. Thats a pretty significant step forward. What we then will do with Office in the Longhorn timeframe will also be a significant step forward. One of the big steps there will relate to what we call the unification of storage. For our users one of the improvements to the experience will be [the ability] to unify the storage of certain applications like Outlook with the storage of the operating environment as well as some SQL-structured storage. This will result in one folder system, which improves the accessibility of information thats related to a given project--and to be able to do that on both the client and server and extend that because its one and the same storage system.