At the launch event for Microsoft Office 2003, held yesterday in New York, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates lauded Microsoft Office System's integration features, collaboration capabilities, and efficiency. He led attendees through a 90-minute dog-and-pony show that highlighted almost every application, server, and service that make up the new Office System. But by virtue of sheer numbers, Microsoft's Office partners stole the show with a bevy of interesting new Office 2003 add-ons that bolster the software giant's claims about the product's extensibility.
Microsoft says that more than 700 Office System-based solutions are already available from 250 of the company's partners--six times the number of solutions third parties built in time for the Office XP launch in mid-2001. The company noted that never before have so many partners committed to delivering solutions so early in a product's life cycle. To be available in time for the launch, many of these products began development several months ago.
Reasons for this dramatic increase in third-party support include the new extensibility features that are available in various Office 2003 applications, the broad and native support for industry-standard XML, and the release of Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System, which lets developers create professional Office 2003 add-ons. In applications such as Microsoft Office Excel 2003 and Microsoft Office Word 2003, new task-pane-based add-ons are unobtrusive yet full featured and, when correctly written, appear to be native features of those applications. Third-party developers I spoke with at the launch say that this functionality makes this Office release a dramatic departure from earlier versions.