At the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2002 trade show today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will announce the company's plans to deliver a new member of the Microsoft Office 11 product family, code-named "XDocs," in mid-2003. Microsoft says that XDocs will "streamline the process of gathering information by enabling teams and organizations to easily create and work with rich, dynamic forms." The technology supports any customer-defined XML (Extensible Markup Language) schema and integrates with XML-based Web services.
"The vision for XDocs is to deliver on the needs of our customers by connecting XML Web services to information workers at their desktops," Ballmer says. "XDocs provides new ways to gather and reuse company data, enabling better information flow, more informed decisions and greater integration of people with business processes throughout an organization."
So what does this mean? XDocs will work like a traditional word processing application, but uses XML for capturing data from other sources using a forms-based user interface. "While the tool provides great design and editing capabilities for traditional forms like purchase orders and equipment requests, what's innovative is that XDocs squarely targets information that historically has been more difficult to capture, like business-critical data contained in sales reports, inventory updates, project memos, travel itineraries, and performance reviews," says Jean Paoli, the XML architect behind XDocs at Microsoft and one of the co-creators of the XML 1.0 standard. "One of the real innovations in XDocs is the fact that users can see and modify abstract data structures using a traditional word-processing environment. XDocs associates what we call 'Editing Views' to those abstract data structures, providing users with all the familiar tools to which they've grown accustomed, like rich text formatting, table and picture support, and AutoCorrect. In addition, industry-standard XML schema validation and business logic validation in XDocs prevent costly data errors. And XDocs lets users save forms to their computers so that they can work on them at their convenience, even offline."
XDocs will ship with Office 11, due in mid-2003, though the company is still unsure whether it will be a standalone product, or a technology component of the suite and individual applications. Office 11 Beta 1 should ship within the next 30 days.