The next version of Microsoft Office - codenamed office 11 - is not yet in beta, says Microsoft, but it is due within a month, Alun Williams writes.
Yesterday Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft already had the next Office release in beta, but this is not quite the case.
'We're not in beta yet', the Microsoft Office XP Product Manager David Bennie told us. It should happen in less than a month, however. Beta 1 will be a closed program with 6,000 copies released worldwide. Beta 2, following on in 2003, will be slightly more open with 3,000 customers involved.
David Bennie was speaking about the XDocs application announced yesterday. Emphasising that "XML is the way to go" for Microsoft, he claimed that XML is steadily establishing itself in business use. He also fleshed out possible uses.
Salespeople out on the road, for example, could record travel expenses and details of future meetings in one form. Each cell of an XDocs form could relate to different business requirements - meeting information going to Outlook, expenses info to SQL Server, etc.
Essentially, XDocs is smart-form design application. With a simple front-end for user input, the forms can take advantage of XML for co-ordinating with important back-end business processes. The salesperson's identity, perhaps, could be used as the key to draw in any supplementary material and customer details could be populated from their name alone. Once back at base, the data would be synchronised.
Bennie also foresees a role for XDocs outside of large corporations - small businesses, for example. "How many people use the forms capabilities of Word?" he asks rhetorically. XDocs could be used as a simple template for individual expense reports and such like.
Note that whereas Office XP was the first incarnation of Office to allow saving of files as XML (as a different document type), XDocs will work natively in XML - there is no native format to translate.