Microsoft releases new Office tools

The company launches new tools for linking its Office desktop software into its growing .Net Web services plan.

Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
Mike Ricciuti
3 min read
Microsoft on Monday launched new tools for linking its Office desktop software into its growing .Net Web services plan.

The company posted two tools for free download on its Web site: the Office XP Web Services Toolkit and the Smart Tag Enterprise Resource Toolkit. Both tools let developers link Office, which controls more than 90 percent of the desktop business software market, into Web services developed using .Net.

.Net is Microsoft's overarching plan for Web services. It includes links to Microsoft's online properties such as MSN and bCentral--a Web site focused on small businesses--and new tools and software that business customers can buy to create their own Web services. Ultimately, the plan will encompass Microsoft's all-important transition from dependence on one-time sales of software and upgrades to a more stable source of revenue based on recurring subscription fees through .Net My Services, a group of subscription services aimed at individuals.

Hurwitz Group analyst Evan Quinn said Microsoft's move to make Office XP available as a Web service is "one of the best ideas out of their .Net strategy" and could greatly increase the popularity of .Net.

Many companies customize Office for in-house use, he said, and the new tool kit will allow them to continue to do so with Web services. In the past, programmers wanting to customize Office had to use a set of Microsoft programming tools called Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). Companies, for example, could use VBA to build internal human resources or accounting software that used elements of Word or Excel.

"VBA was very successful. It made it easy to take portions of the Office application and use them in a customized fashion. And this new tool kit does the same thing, but for the Internet, .Net and Web services,? Quinn said.

see special report: Web services: The new buzz With the tool kit, Microsoft can leverage its large base of Office customers as a potential launching pad for .Net, Quinn said.

"A lot of organizations that have used VBA in the past can get their feet wet with Web services precisely with this tool kit," he said. "The idea (from Microsoft's point of view) is there are zillions of Office users who are comfortable using Office tools, and this allows companies to take advantage of that comfort and tie it to other things."

Gartner analyst David Smith says with announcements such as these...(Microsoft) is ensuring that developers and customers of Office and the company's other productivity tool get the same message.

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Microsoft said the Office XP Web Services Toolkit lets developers integrate XML (Extensible Markup Language) Web services into Office XP. For instance, developers can use the tool kit to build a link to a Web service that uses Excel to display customer information stored on several internal servers. The tool kit also works with UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration), a budding Web services standard, so Office users can find and link to other available Web services.

The Smart Tag Enterprise Resource Toolkit is more of a how-to kit intended to entice developers into using Microsoft's Smart Tag technology through its Web services plan. The kit includes sample code and white papers describing how to use Smart Tags.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft introduced Smart Tags with Office XP, which the company launched at the end of May. Microsoft had planned to include Smart Tags in Internet Explorer 6 but pulled the feature.

In addition to the new tools, Microsoft is expected on Feb. 13 to launch Visual Studio.Net, a new release of its core development tools tightly linked to .Net and XML Web services development.