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Microsoft Omits Local Web Storage System and Office Designer from Office 10

Microsoft announced changes to Office 10 last week that could have a major effect on the development of the Web Storage System (WSS) applications for Exchange 2000 Server and "Tahoe" and on the extent to which administrators deploy the next version of Outlook. Microsoft originally planned for Outlook 10, due in the second quarter of 2001, to use a new data file called the Local Web Storage System (LWSS). The LWSS would have provided better connectivity to Exchange 2000 Server—especially for users who work offline—and several improvements for standalone users, such as an end to the 2GB storage limit that has plagued Outlook's current local data store, the Personal Folders .pst file. But last week, Microsoft announced that Office 10 would include neither the LWSS nor Microsoft Office Designer, a new tool for building WSS applications.

The LWSS was no small piece of Outlook; it was the show-stealer. The LWSS would have been a major architectural enhancement, connecting Outlook to Exchange 2000 and "Tahoe" via HTTP and providing a local Active Server Pages (ASP) engine to let WSS applications run totally offline. Many of the keynote sessions and hottest demos at the Microsoft Exchange and Collaboration Solutions Conference 2000 (MEC 2000) in October featured the LWSS. Who can forget watching a Microsoft presenter snip the LAN cable with a pair of scissors and then keep working in Outlook without having to restart the program?

Without the LWSS, Exchange 2000 lacks an offline component that can take advantage of all that the WSS has to offer. Applications built for the WSS can run only in a browser connected directly to the server. Companies that need offline access to Exchange-based applications will have to stick with Public Folders and traditional Outlook forms.

Outlook 10 promises many useful new features, but none provide the dramatic leap that the LWSS, also known as the Local Information Store (LIS), would have delivered. The loss of the LWSS plus the inclusion of the features from the security patch (as I wrote in this column 2 weeks ago) makes Outlook 10 a less attractive upgrade. As one prominent Outlook/Exchange developer told me, "Without the LIS and with the patch baked in, Outlook will meekly ship in the \[Office 10\] box and doesn't present a compelling reason for the pain and cost of upgrade for enterprise customers."

The loss of Office Designer, which depended on the LWSS, is also a blow to the WSS, because it leaves the WSS without a solid development tool. Office Designer actually had two faces. For administrators and power users, Office Designer was a tool for rapidly deploying common applications to WSS folders via templates—similar to the Team Folders add-on for Outlook 2000, but with more sophisticated (and relevant) programs. According to Office product manager Lisa Gurry, at least some Office Designer templates will survive for release in a future edition of the WSS software development kit (SDK).

As a development environment, Office Designer was the only dedicated tool for building WSS applications. Microsoft gave Office Designer a rich development environment and tight integration with Outlook 10. Office Designer provided features to simplify the task of creating browser-specific or language-specific pages for WSS applications.

Other WSS tools are in the works for FrontPage and Visual Studio.NET, but as add-ons, not as dedicated WSS development environments. Microsoft released Beta 1 of Visual Studio.NET only last month.

The handful of developers who are already up to speed on WSS applications might not mourn the loss of Office Designer because they are still well ahead of the pack. But other developers and administrators were looking forward to having a tool to help them quickly build and deploy Exchange 2000 applications. Now these people will have to either knuckle down and learn the myriad of technologies involved in the WSS or wait a few months and see if Microsoft delivers another tool that cuts down on the learning curve.

I'd like to know more about your plans to build client applications for the WSS. Write to me at [email protected].

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