Office Becoming a Platform

With Office System 2003, Microsoft hopes to transform the Office franchise into a real application development platform, a plan it hopes to make more concrete at next week’s first Microsoft Office System Developer Conference in Redmond, Wash.

That brings up the perennial question: Can small ISVs profit in a world where the platform continues to leap up the application stack?

Microsoft insists that regardless of how many functions it crams into its core applications, there will always be "white space" in which ISVs can add their own value. The vendor has spent millions extending Office beyond Word, Excel and PowerPoint to tools and servers. While this isn’t the first time it has tried to make Office a platform, partners say it may be the first time it succeeds.

Rich Glew, director of marketing for Information Worker Partners at Microsoft, said what’s different now is that the 15-month-old Office 2003 "isn’t your father’s Office."

He ticks off the lineup: "We’ve got the Office System Development Kit, ASP.Net support, SharePoint technologies and native Web Parts support. We’ve got our own XML schema, and support for XML with InfoPath, and the entire Visual Studio Tools for Office, as well as new back-end integration with the Information Bridge Framework." Phew.

The beauty of Word or Excel front ends is that customers can keep using a familiar interface even as more back-end functions and data are exposed to it. The flip side, as critics point out, is that the Word/Excel/PowerPoint combination remains the world’s fattest, most resource-intensive client.

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