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Microsoft moves ahead on XDocs

The software giant is set to unveil more details about the controversial electronic forms software, an addition to the forthcoming Office 11, including a new name.

Microsoft on Monday plans to unveil more details on XDocs, its controversial electronic forms software.

The software giant is set to announce at a conference in San Diego that XDocs will officially be called InfoPath.

Last year, Microsoft unveiled XDocs as a planned addition to Office 11, the forthcoming update to the company's market-dominating, cash-cow productivity suite. Office 11 will rely heavily on Extensible Markup Language (XML), the lingua franca of Web services, to record and display data more flexibly.

Also on Monday, Microsoft will demonstrate InfoPath-created forms used to route data according to the Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) format, a new standard adopted by the health care industry for the electronic exchange of data.

Bobby Moore, a Microsoft product manager, said the CDA demonstration shows how XDocs, now InfoPath, can work with existing data schemas to simplify entry and exchange of information. "You can create a form in XDocs that allows the physician to deliver information," Moore said. "That information turns into XML...and you can share that through various parts of the health care system."

InfoPath will use XML to allow office workers to create electronic forms that will automatically share data with other documents and back-end business systems.

Microsoft is hoping to corner a share of the XML-based content management software market. Market researcher ZapThink, based in Waltham, Mass., estimates the value of the market for XML-based content management software at more than $11 billion by 2008.

With that badly needed revenue at stake, several software makers are jumping into the fray. Some detractors have charged that Microsoft, with InfoPath, is attempting to use its overwhelming lead in desktop productivity tools to control the burgeoning market.

Microsoft's plans for InfoPath collide to various extents with plans from competing software makers and industry groups.

Software rival Adobe Systems, for instance, has made electronic forms a major piece of its strategy to embed its portable document format more deeply into enterprise systems, prompting fears the two software giants could be headed for a showdown.

InfoPath also runs counter to XForms, an XML-based electronic forms standard being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, the group charged with setting industry standards for Web functions.

Moore said Microsoft decided to use the Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT) standard--as opposed to XForms--to govern how XML data is presented in InfoPath. Moore said XSLT, which defines how to transform one XML form into another, offered a more flexible way to display data. That's critical in ensuring InfoPath forms can be used by ordinary office workers, he said.

"It lets us display something that's more like a document, something that's more like rich text," he said."

InfoPath is slated to debut by midyear in conjunction with Office 11, Microsoft said.