The next version of Microsoft Corp.s Office productivity suite will come with XML support baked into Word, allowing users to, among other things, more effectively mine their data.
Code-named Office 11, the suite will feature built-in support for XML in Word, allowing developers to create “smart” documents that automatically search for code or updates as needed.
In addition, the software—the first beta of which is expected to be announced by company CEO Steve Ballmer at Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 9—will allow developers to use Word as a development platform to create XML templates and solutions, as well as re-purpose content with database and Web service interaction, said Jeff Raikes, Microsofts group vice president of productivity and business services, in an interview with eWeek.
For example, developers could deploy solutions built for business process problems for Word or Microsoft Excel that end users could forward to third parties. When the document is opened, Word or Excel would check to see whether the solution was installed on that persons machine. If so, it would load the solution. If not, and if the solution passed security tests, Office could retrieve the files and install them, officials said.
“Office 11 is a big step forward,” said Raikes, in Redmond, Wash. “It now supports arbitrary schema, which can be used to validate a document.” It also allows standard schema for reporting things such as financial information. That data can then be immediately accessed without it first having to be massaged, he said.
Arbitrary schemas, also known as “open” or “customer” schemas, let users define their own tags in a way that suits their businesses. In Office 11, applications will be able to interact with customer-defined schemas—unlike Office XP, in which Excel 2002 uses Spreadsheet XML.
Joseph Rovine, a software engineer at eRoom Technology Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., said these innovations will be a boon for Office, as they will enable the suite to read the schemas and figure out from them how to represent the structured data to users.
“This would give you something like a live Web site where up-to-date information is displayed but without the Web browser,” Rovine said, adding that its too early to tell if Office will get any attention as an XML development platform.
Microsofts Raikes said the arbitrary schemas in Office 11 “grow phenomenally” the softwares ability to connect with business applications, since its no longer necessary to write Excel specifically for a financial reporting schema or a content management schema.
Word Task Pane (see image) will also become programmable in XML, effectively becoming a mechanism that guides users through the solution that was built on Office, Raikes said.
Bill Coan, president of Coan and Company Inc., in Hortonville, Wis., which develops custom templates and add-ins for corporate customers, welcomed the programmable task pane.
“This is a very, very powerful development,” Coan said. “It simply hasnt been possible before now, and it will have a dramatic impact on user productivity.”
But Bob Duerr, president of Integrated e-Com, in Naperville, Ill., which provides CRM (customer relationship management), e-CRM and e-commerce solutions to small businesses, said Offices new XML features seem geared toward midsize- and large-enterprise users.
“Small businesses will not use or understand the capabilities,” Duerr said. “Also, getting the average user to take advantage of it will take understanding; training; and many, many pre-built templates.”
Looking beyond Office 11, Raikes said there will be another significant step forward within the time frame of the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn and due beyond 2004, that will relate to storage unification.
“One of the improvements to the user experience will be the storage unification of certain applications, like Outlook, with the storage of the operating environment as well as some SQL-structured storage,” Raikes said.
This will result in one folder system, on the client and server, based on the same storage system, Raikes said.
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