Foundations for a connected Office

The controversy over office document formats heated up again this week when Microsoft and Massachusetts tangled over the state's firm intention to standardize on the XML format. Personally, I think everyone's barking up the wrong tree. Office suites haven't felt like the center of the computing universe for a very long time. The network's where the action is.
Don't get me wrong. It's great news that Microsoft will make its XML formats the default for Office 12, and will enable legacy versions to read and write them. This move will open up vast reservoirs of content to search and recombination. I'm likewise jazzed about the growing maturity of The world needs a viable alternative to Microsoft's word processor and spreadsheet. But arguing about whose XML format should be the office document standard feels awfully retro. Instead let's reinvent the office suite for a networked world. [Full story at]
In terms of Office, the message here at the PDC is all about the full-on fat client. Highlights include Office 12's streamlined new results-oriented interface, and the snazzy things that developers can do with VBA's .NET-based successor, VSTA (Visual Studio Tools for Applications). You have to look much harder for evidence of the software-as-a-service strategy that was announced years ago. There were, however, a few sightings.

Here's one: Excel as a server. I first heard of this at the Office developer event last February. The idea is to run Excel's analyis engine on the server, and remote a simplified UI into any browser by way of an ASP.NET Web Part. When that was shown here in a SharePoint demo, it got a big round of applause.

Here's another: rendering InfoPath forms on a server, again for use in any browser. Tying the InfoPath forms designer to its player, and including the product only in the enterprise version of Office, was a poor way to leverage such excellent work. So when a browser was shown hitting the InfoPath service, there was another big round of applause.

Of course, reinventing Office for a connected world should mean more than just peeling the interfaces off engines and stringing wire between the two. It should mean, among other things, service orientation, peer-to-peer capability, workflow, federated identity, and new ways to query and visualize data. I've seen advances on all these fronts at this PDC. And thanks to their common foundation in .NET, there's been an impressive consistency among these various initiatives. It'll take me a while to process all my impressions, but that's the key takeaway.

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