Services & Software

Microsoft recruits for new Office

The software giant is encouraging other companies to build applications that will be compatible with Office 2003.

Microsoft on Monday announced several new programs aimed at helping outside software makers build applications that work with the next version of the company's Office productivity software.

Office, which bundles common workplace applications such as spreadsheet and word processing programs, is one of Microsoft's most profitable divisions. But the package has run into resistance in recent years, with the majority of businesses declining to upgrade to the current Office XP because of cost concerns and a lack of compelling new features.

Microsoft hopes to reverse that with features in the next version, Office 2003, that dramatically boost support for Extensible Markup Language (XML). By making XML one of the main output formats for the newly christened Office System, administrators will be able to tie documents into corporate databases and integrate them with back-end systems.

The utility of such features depends to a large extent, however, on support from other software makers; Microsoft hopes to use its TechEd conference--which runs Monday through Friday in Dallas--to show that the backing is there.

New partner resources announced at the start of the conference include the Office System Solution Directory, a free database maintained by Microsoft of software makers building applications that tie into Office. Notable products will be showcased in the Office Marketplace, a Web site where software partners will be able to show off their Office-related wares.

The company also announced the Office System Partner Solution Builder Program and the Smart Client Readiness Program to help train and support software companies that have promising Office-related products.

"We?re thrilled that other companies...are already taking advantage of the development opportunity to create great Microsoft Office System-based solutions for their customers," Joe Eschbach, corporate vice president of the Information Worker Product Management Group at Microsoft, said in a statement.

"Our customers want to access their information in whatever system it resides, improve efficiencies in their key business processes and work more easily with other people. The solutions we--and partners--are building with the Microsoft Office System will help our customers do that and more."

Companies demonstrating new Office-related products at TechEd include Electronic Data Systems, which has developed HR Office System, a package that works with Office 2003 and related Microsoft software to streamline the process for collecting human-resources data. Hewlett-Packard is incorporating Office 2003 support in its eLearning Portal, which helps students, teachers and parents collaborate on learning.