Microsoft Adds XDocs to Office Family

Ballmer to announce "hybrid information gathering tool" at Gartner ITxpo.

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday will announce XDocs, the working code name for the latest addition to its Office desktop productivity family.

Steve Ballmer, CEO of the Redmond, Wash., software company, will use the Gartner ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., to announce this latest Office application.

Microsoft officials are promoting XDocs as a smart client like Office. "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.

There are two components to XDocs: the designer, which allows users to create templates and schemas; and the editor, which allows information to be inputted and viewed.

The idea is to provide users with a set of 25 templates based on industry-standard XML. That will enable developers, third parties, corporate IT programmers and technical users to create additional templates, based on the XML schema they define, specific to their business or industry. Information will then be entered onto these templates.

"That allows customers to decide, through their own schema, what that data should look like. And because its XML, we can then parse that data out of the document and send it to any XML-enabled back-end system from where it can also then be retrieved. It thus complements customers existing infrastructures," Bishop said.

However, he declined to say how XDocs would fit with the existing suite of Office products or the next-version Office 11. He also would not confirm whether it will debut as a stand-alone product, as part of the Office suite or simply as a technological component of Office 11.

"It will be an Office family member. How it fits specifically is still being determined. No SKU decisions have been made as yet, and were working with customers to determine the optimal licensing and packaging arrangement as well as pricing," he said.

But both Office 11 and XDocs are slated to ship around the same time, mid-2003. That will follow the first XDocs beta--expected before the end of the year--and a wider second beta next year.

Pharmaceutical firm Solutia Inc. is participating in the alpha program. Art Huggard, director of digital strategy at Solutia, said the company is exploring the impact on many internal processes--from custom purchase order solutions to clinical trial data submission.

"The validation capability within XDocs enables us to check our data against criteria that we have set, improving the accuracy of data entry. And because the data collected by XDocs is XML, we can send it directly to our clinical systems, actually eliminating a step in our clinical trials process. We anticipate that XDocs will not only speed up the flow of information, but also reduce errors, saving everyone a significant amount of time and money," Huggard said in a statement.