Microsoft Corp. on Monday renamed its XDocs application to InfoPath, but declined to say whether this information-gathering tool would ship as part of Office 11, the code name for the next version of Office, or if it would be sold as a stand-alone product.
InfoPath is essentially a smart client that Microsoft says will bring robust data-capturing capabilities to its Office productivity suite.
"Think of it as a hybrid information gathering tool for organizations that blends the benefits and richness of a traditional word processing program with the data capturing ability and rigor of a forms package into the XDocs templates," Scott Bishop, an Office product manager, told eWEEK late last year.
A Microsoft spokeswoman told eWEEK on Monday that "whether InfoPath will be included in Office or just sold separately is still being determined at this point, as is pricing."
But customers and developers told eWEEK they expect Microsoft to sell InfoPath separately from Office 11, but at a discount for Office customers who upgrade to Office 11 or for new customers who purchase Office 11 and XDocs together.
Some skeptical users also speculate that InfoPath could be a further-reaching development effort than the company has indicated. Such users told eWEEK that Microsoft could leverage InfoPath across a range of product groups, from Office to enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, accounting, database and messaging products.
A software developer in Groton, Mass., who asked not to be named, speculated that InfoPath would also be used as a vehicle to sell more Microsoft Web services. According to the developer, Microsoft is trying to move the software market toward a subscription basis, "and XDocs is one more arrow in the quiver, so to speak."
But others, such as Bill Coan, president of Coan and Company Inc., which develops custom templates and add-ins for corporate customers, disagreed, saying InfoPath will be good for the market.
"It will do for data-driven content what desktop and Web publishing tools have done for unstructured content: allow users to capture and report structured data without relying on a host of experts," Coan said.
Microsoft on Monday used the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Societys 2003 Conference to show how InfoPath supports the Clinical Document Architecture (CDA), a national XML standard for the health-care industry.
Amicore Inc., which provides software and services to physicians, also announced Monday that it plans to include InfoPath in its upcoming Amicore Integrated Management solution, which will be available in the third quarter of this year.
Amicores solution, aimed at helping physicians streamline the data-gathering workflow process, will draw heavily on InfoPath support for XML-based Web services as well as its data-validation capabilities, said Reese Gomez, a vice president at Amicore.
Microsoft is also targeting InfoPath at a variety of vertical industries with distinct industry-specific data needs. "InfoPath support for industry-standard XML schemas will be a productivity boon for these industries," said Joe Eschbach, corporate vice president of the Information Worker Product Management Group at Microsoft.
In addition, InfoPaths tight integration with Office 11 applications and support for SharePoint Team Services, will let all users collect and share data, be it with others in their workgroup, or with co-workers and partners anywhere in the world, he said.
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