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Microsoft pretties Office for business apps

Microsoft plans to release software geared to help third parties integrate Outlook, other Office components.

BOSTON--Microsoft on Monday detailed a plan to make its Office applications a common entry point into back-end business applications from other vendors.

The initiative, called Office Business Applications, is meant to encourage third-party application providers to write code that will integrate closely with Microsoft Office applications. The company discussed the effort at its TechEd customer conference here.

Microsoft and SAP have a joint development project, called Duet, which makes Office the access point to SAP data and business process. For example, a person could send out an offer letter for employment from Word and draw information from a specialized human resources application.

With Office Business Applications, Microsoft intends to get more software companies and corporate developers to do similar work, executives said.

"Office Business Applications are a new breed of applications we think with (Office System) 2007 people will be able to build in earnest," said Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft's information worker product management group.

Office System 2007, which is due early next year, will include a set of common services which will have published technical interfaces.

Those services include work flow, search, a business data catalog, user interface components, security and the Office Open XML file formats.

Microsoft also detailed a toolkit called Lobi (line-of-business interoperability) for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, which is designed to simplify the building of transactional business applications with Office and the SharePoint portal server. A technical preview will be available at the end of 2006 and generally available next year, executives said.

"The whole goal of Lobi is to deliver line-of-business (application) data and business processes right into the Office clients," Capossela said.

Separately, the software giant said enterprise resource planning application suite Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0 has been released to manufacturing, which means that the product will be available soon.

Company executives said the updated application suite is integrated with Microsoft's SharePoint portal server and the reporting services in SQL Server 2005. The supply chain application can also collect and monitor RFID information.

Over time, Microsoft intends to create closer integration with Office applications, such as Outlook, executives said.

"We think this will go a long way to boosting up the percentage of people (who) actually use the system to above 15 percent, as it is now," said James Utzschneider, general manager for Microsoft Dynamics marketing.

Other planned enhancements include the ability to use Visual Studio to integrate Microsoft Dynamics with other applications using Web services protocols, executives said.