Microsoft Takes XML Mainstream


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XML has been touted as the next big thing in enterprise software and Web services for awhile now, but nothing signals its mass acceptance more clearly than industry behemoth Microsoft embracing XML and delivering its power to corporate desktops everywhere. Microsoft's new Office System 2003, currently in Beta 2 release and the successor to Microsoft Office XP, provides XML support in a number of veteran Microsoft programs, as well as some newcomers and leverages it to integrate some formidable content offerings.

The Beta evaluation kit includes seven Office System products: new versions of the standard Office Suite products Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Access; two new Office System additions (InfoPath and OneNote); and Microsoft Office FrontPage, Publisher, SharePoint Services, and SharePoint Portal Server 2.0. Microsoft developed the products in an effort to improve information intelligence, streamline process management, improve teaming and collaboration, and create a more personalized environment for the business user. Office 2003 integrates with Microsoft SharePoint products and technologies; offers XML support in Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office Excel 2003, and Microsoft Office Access 2003; and supports Information Rights Management.

Certain prominent research and information providers have also announced that they will offer services in conjunction with Microsoft Office 2003. Factiva, Gale, and eLibrary have all integrated search tools into the Research Task Pane of all Microsoft Office 2003 applications and are available as a part of the Microsoft Office 2003 Beta 2 trial. These and other information sources can be accessed directly from Office applications like Word and Excel. An Office user with a paid subscription (some services are also offered for free), can right click on a word or phrase, choose "Look Up," and open a Research Window. Users can choose from a variety of content sources and access and import the information directly, without leaving the original application. If they don't have a subscription to a desired information service, users will be prompted to purchase the information à la carte or to subscribe.

Factiva's first solution for Office 2003, Factiva News Search, is designed to allow information workers to conduct research on Factiva's collection of sources directly from a report, spreadsheet, or presentation they're creating. Users can explore industry trends from newspapers, journals, and newswires from around the world and insert that research into their document. While evaluating Beta test feedback, Factiva and Microsoft will also be researching customer solutions that can be built on top of the Office 2003 System.

Gale offers Microsoft users access to a portion of Gale's online information resources from within Office applications. By highlighting a company name in most Microsoft Office 2003 applications, customers can receive Gale-published company profiles as well as access a new Web-based online service offered by Gale to purchase individual reports or subscribe to a database of company profiles. Each profile is a report on the highlighted company, with an overview of its businesses, executive names, financial data, recent news and announcements, and other information.

"Searching for accurate, current, and vetted information and news on companies—particularly private companies—is time-consuming and often ineffective," says Allen Paschal, president of Gale, a part of the Thomson Corp. "Delivering must-have information directly into Office applications will create a new experience for users, creating a real impact on productivity."

Alacritude, LLC, publisher of eLibrary and Encyclopedia.com, will allow Microsoft Office 2003 users to search for eLibrary documents when a word is highlighted within most Office applications. eLibrary search results and article abstracts are available for free, and eLibrary offers unlimited, full document access with additional research capabilities for those who pay a subscription fee. "Content Web services are providing an early example of the value of XML and .NET Web services for business professionals," according to Hadley Reynolds, senior vice president of research strategy at Delphi Group in Boston. "Anyone who needs to reference authoritative business sources will benefit from transparent access to that information directly within their primary working environment."

Office 2003 now offers XML support in Word 2003, Excel 2003, and Access 2003 (although conspicuously absent in Outlook). The new Word 2003 allows users to save documents in XML and create their own customized schema-based templates. Multiple XML documents can also be searched as a database so that users can locate information more expediently. XML documents in Office Excel 2003 are most useful for those requiring the program to perform computation or analysis; any data in an XML schema can now be calculated without requiring reformatting.

Two newcomers to Office are making their debut in the Office 2003 system: InfoPath and OneNote. InfoPath, along with Publisher and Business Contact Manager, will be available on the Office 2003 Professional Enterprise Edition, which can be purchased via Microsoft's Volume Licensing Program. Both InfoPath and OneNote will also be sold as standalone applications and may be added to a future version of the Office suite.

Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 is an XML forms development component that allows customers to design and fill out dynamic forms and submit them to XML-enabled systems and business processes. OneNote is a note-taking tool designed to more naturally handle both handwritten and typed notes. Once notes are entered via typing, pasting, or "ink" on a Tablet PC, the user can manipulate them in a variety of ways. OneNote also allows handwritten notes to be searched as well as text and automatically includes a URL when information is imported from Internet Explorer.

(www.alacritude.com; www.factiva.com; www.gale.com; www.microsoft.com; www.thomson.com)