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Microsoft announces work flow, graphics tools

As expected, Redmond details Windows Workflow Foundation, designed as a work flow engine combined with developer tools.

LOS ANGELES--Moving further into the world of business processes, Microsoft on Wednesday announced a plan to build work flow management into many of its products.

As expected, the company announced the Windows Workflow Foundation, a combination of a new work flow engine, as well as tools and a programming model for developers to use to add such abilities into their own software. Microsoft itself plans to build such abilities into a number of its products, including Office 12, BizTalk Server and the Microsoft Dynamics family of business applications.

The company also offered more details of its Expression suite of graphics tools. The company outlined plans for three graphics programs: Acrylic Graphic Designer, a painting, illustration and effects tool that combines vector-based and bitmap abilities; Sparkle Interactive Designer, a tool for application developers to design software user interfaces; and Quartz Web Designer, a tool for designing Web sites.

"Our goal is to redefine what is considered a 'good enough' user experience, senior vice president Eric Rudder said in a statement before his keynote speech at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference here.

During his talk, Rudder also announced a new set of tools designed to allow software makers to open up their programs to be customized by others. The software, known as Visual Studio Tools for Applications, is based on the company's existing Visual Studio suite. Rudder and other Microsoft executives pitched the tools as a way to enable software to be customized without placing all the burden on the application writers.

"We're overburdened, as developers, adding features to applications," Rudder said.

Following Rudder's speech, Office Senior Vice President Steven Sinofsky outlined new business process and content management features in Office 12, an update that is scheduled to ship in the second half of next year.

However, Microsoft is still not saying how the company will sell these new capabilities, which include new server-based components.

"These are not packages and prices," Sinofsky said.

On Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled a fairly radical revamp of the user interface of the productivity suite. Sinofsky is expected to talk further about the features of Office 12, as well as some new server capabilities.