Gates: Future Office to boast workflow

Microsoft's next major version of the Office applications suite will feature built-in workflow capabilities, according to company chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates.

Speaking at the Microsoft Office System Developer Conference 2005 in Redmond, Washington, Gates also said a new beta release of Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System was due next month.

That product, which is set for general release later this year, is intended to enable developers to write managed Visual Basic .Net and Visual C# .Net code that runs in Word 2003 and Excel 2003 documents.

Earlier in the week, company officials had declined to provide details on the next version of Office, which has sometimes been referred to as Office 12 and may not even ship until some time in 2006, based on the company's previous two- to three-year release schedules for Office. The last major version, Office 2003, arrived in late 2003.

Although noting the planned workflow capabilities for the future Office package, Gates primarily continued the company's mantra about existing Office functionality for businesses, along with talking about the use of XML.

"The promise behind Office is constant improvement in all the business imperatives" such as using the applications to provide users with the numerical data they need, Gates said.

XML, meanwhile, had become a key data type and Office was extended via XML, he said.

The upcoming Yukon version of the SQL Server database featured dramatic advances in XML, he said.

Web services also are critical in Microsoft's applications strategy.

"The Web services standards really answer a question that has been around forever: Can a piece of software on one computer talk to a piece of software on another computer [regardless of operating system]," Gates said.

Web services specifications that Microsoft had been working on of late would be built into the company's SharePoint collaboration software, Gates said. The planned Indigo Web services run time would offer a unified programming model, he said.

Web services also were crucial to deployment of service-oriented architectures, with the Web services able to be changed without breaking the applications, Gates said.

"You might say [SOA is] the latest buzzword in the industry," Gates said. "And, in fact, it is, [but it is important]."

During Gates's presentation, a company official also demonstrated integration between a Siebel CRM system and Outlook. The technology has been referred to as Project Elixir.

Gates touted the company's smart client strategy, which involves client applications that leverage local resources and connect to distributed data sources.

He also talked about a future version of SQL, presumably referring to the SQL Server database, as featuring enhancements for XML and streams-based data.

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