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Gates: Perfect Smart Client? – Office, of Course

Redmond, Wash. -- Microsoft chairman Bill Gates used the company's first Office System Developer Conference to pitch Office as the obvious smart client for applications being built by the 800 partner developers in the audience.

Gates’ keynote, which came on the last day of the conference, highlighted Office’s ability to work with other applications, including third-party applications such as Siebel Systems.

Referring to the future of Office as “the connected platform,” Gates told developers, “Our basic view is that by making improvements in the Windows platform and Office, we can free up parts of the IT budget that have been based on lots of manual work and complex overhead [previously].”

Following on the same them as the conference’s opening keynote last Wednesday, Gates and company gave further demonstrations of new capabilities coming in Visual Studio Tools for Office 2005 (VSTO 2005) aimed at making Office the key development platform for future connected applications. VSTO 2005 will be included with Visual Studio 2005 when it comes out this summer.

“Here we have the full richness of Visual Studio, and now a development framework that lets you build an Office smart client,” Gates said. “This builds on the Office XML format, and really shows you templates and examples of how to connect up to Web services.” Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2005 will come out in March, Gates added.

In one demo during Gates’ speech, another Microsoft executive demonstrated VSTO 2005’s capability to host an Excel spreadsheet within Visual Studio’s integrated development environment (IDE). “This is not screen scraping . . . this is all of Excel sitting completely, tightly integrated into Visual Studio [and] what that means is that all the power of Excel is now available to a Visual Studio developer,” K.D. Hallman, general manager for VSTO, told the crowd.

In a second demo, Tom Caputo, a product manager in Microsoft’s platform strategy division, showed off a customized version of Outlook with the ability to access information stored in several databases, including querying and updating a Siebel CRM system from within Outlook.

“When we think about smart client technologies, this is really what we're talking about; it's about offline [caching of data] . . . [about] that rich user interface, it's about pulling data from a bunch of disparate back-ends and integrating into a normal, natural workflow,” Caputo added. Microsoft is currently rolling the customized version out to 1,000 members of its own sales force, he said.

While none of these constitute particularly new or startling revelations, it’s not like Gates’ vision doesn’t make sense, one analyst said

.

“Microsoft has been pushing Office as a ‘Smart Client’ to front end back-end operations,” JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox, said on his blog recently. “While XML drove the initial push, supported by InfoPath, there's no reason why Microsoft shouldn't leverage other assets . . . [and] Outlook is a big one, particularly as Microsoft begins to articulate a desktop search strategy”

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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