Microsoft to launch Office developer conference

Microsoft plans to hold its first-ever conference for Microsoft Office software developers, the company announced Monday.

The conference, scheduled for February 2005, is part of a growing effort by the software maker to build a thriving software development community around its popular suite of productivity software.

Though developers have been able to build custom software called macros within Office applications for years, these macros were not typically used to share data between applications. With the release of Office 2003, and its support of XML (Extensible Markup Language) that equation has changed, and the company has begun promoting Office as a platform for writing applications that are integrated with server software, said Dan Leach, group product manager with Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group.

Developers can now integrate Office clients with Microsoft server products like the SharePoint Portal Server, Project Server, and the Live Communications Server, he said. "We've really moved beyond thinking of Office as a desktop productivity application," he said.

The conference is being launched as a way to help independent software vendors, systems integrators and enterprise customers take advantage of this new architecture, Leach said. "We're doing it because we're getting so many questions for this kind of information and assistance," he said.

Microsoft also hopes to stay one step ahead of rivals like IBM, who have been promoting open source software and browser-based "thin client" applications as an alternative to Office, analysts said.

"It's a really important part of the strategy now because office upgrades have slowed down and there are competitors like OpenOffice.org peaking over the horizon," said Rob Helm, research director at Directions on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Washington. "Otherwise it becomes very difficult to convince enterprises that they need another version of Word or PowerPoint," he said.

The conference also will give Microsoft an opportunity to explain to developers how best to use the various development tools that are currently available to Office developers, Helm said.

Leach's group began sending out invitations to the conference to 1,000 select developers on Monday, he said. The company expects approximately 800 attendees at the event, which will be held between Feb. 2 and Feb. 4 in Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft's headquarters are located.

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