What, Exactly, Is XDocs?

Goodbye, Web browser front end; hello, hefty smart client.

If you tried to solve the XDocs puzzle based on the various press reports that appeared last Wednesday, youd be left scratching your head. (But if its any consolation, Microsoft couldnt really explain XDocs, either.)

Heres what we know for sure: XDocs is a forms application and soon-to-be new member of the Microsoft Office family.

Heres what Microsoft hinted at: XDocs is also the companys trial balloon Web services client.

Microsoft execs referred to XDocs as a "smart client alternative to Office." For those laboring to keep pace with the latest Microspeak, a smart client is the fat PC desktop revisited. Goodbye, Web browser front end; hello, hefty smart client.

Remember, XDocs didnt appear out of thin air. There is a considerable amount of NetDocs philosophy, if not actual code, under XDocs covers. Remember NetDocs? It almost ended up being a rival to Microsoft Office—which would have been fine, except that it was developed inside Microsoft. The company axed the NetDocs project last year, folding its remaining staffers into the Office team.

Now, the .Net-centric NetDocs seems to have resurfaced in the form of XDocs.

In an article on Microsofts corporate Web site, XDocs chief architect, Jean Paoli, described XDocs this way: "You could say that the information worker, for the first time, has the capability to exploit XML and XML Web services. That means information workers can easily connect to any cross-platform Web service to share data."

Whats your take? Is Microsoft hedging its desktop bets with XDocs? Or does XDocs truly offer a revolutionary new way of collecting and viewing business data?

Read more on XDocs and other Microsoft technologies in Ziff Davis Microsoft Watch newsletter, edited by Mary Jo Foley. Sign up today for your 14-day free trial at www.ziffdavis.com/mswatch.