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Ina Fried

Staff Writer, CNET

After already having drunk its own Elixir, Microsoft on Friday passed the bottle around.

Speaking to a crowd of Office developers, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates showed off Project Elixir–an internal effort that lets Microsoft’s sales force use Outlook to access customer data from a Siebel database.

Gates said that the company was able to do with Office a task that it had failed to achieve with past efforts.

“We took a number of passes at this,” Gates said in a speech at the Office System Developer Conference that was to end Friday in Redmond, Wash. “Some of these required way too much of their time.”

Microsoft is looking for lots of companies to write programs that link Office to other business processes, a message it has driven home at this week’s developer conference. Because of its ubiquity, enhancements to Office have more chance to improve worker productivity than any other application.

“Office is the software that is used more than any other at work,” Gates said. Gates also touted the benefits of interoperability among programs, making many of the same points that he did in an e-mail on Thursday.

Gates also showed his lighter side, poking fun at the doodles he recently left behind at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Handwriting analysts, who thought the sketch was from Tony Blair, said the scribble indicated the writer was either “struggling to concentrate” or “not a natural leader” or “frustrated and tense.”

Gates showed a fake copy of his sketch, which had messages like “So hungry–need cheeseburger” and “I miss Clippy.”

But then, he was reduced to pad and paper instead of a Tablet PC running OneNote, a note-taking application that Microsoft debuted with Office 2003.

“If I’d had OneNote, it would have been a lot better,” he said.