Microsoft next year plans to host its first developers conference dedicated to the Microsoft Office System, underscoring the company's strategy to make Office a foundation for customized business applications.
The conference will take place Feb. 2 through 4 in Microsoft's home town of Redmond, Wash., and will feature Microsoft chair Bill Gates as its keynote speaker. The company said Monday that it expects about 800 developers from independent software vendors, consulting partners and corporate customers to participate.
Microsoft created a conference dedicated to the Office System to promote the creation of add-on products and specialized applications that use popular applications, such as Word and Excel, as a front-end. The Office System is a package of products designed to make what Microsoft calls "information workers" more productive.
For example, a consulting house could create an application for administrative tasks in a medical practice using Office. Microsoft itself has started to create closer linkages between its own customer relationship management applications and Office.
The company estimates that there is about $100 billion in business available to partners that build off of the Office System.
With the launch of Office System 2003 in October of last year, Microsoft sought to create tighter linkages between the individual desktop applications as well as with Windows Server 2003. For instance, people can now more easily share documents on a Web server.
Microsoft has also boosted XML and Web services support in the Office System. This allows people to write applications that access data from company networks and funnel the information into Office documents.
"This is our first developer conference for the entire Microsoft Office System, signifying the transformation of Microsoft Office from a suite of products to a platform on which developers can build valuable solutions for Microsoft Office System customers," Adam LeVasseur, group product manager of Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group, said in a statement.
In the next version of Office System, currently called Office 12, Microsoft said it will seek to find other areas to link together desktop and server software components.
Another significant change to the Office System was the introduction of Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System nearly two years ago, which allows programmers familiar with the company's flagship development environment to write Office applications. In the past, people wrote scripts, or macros, that were difficult to maintain and not suitable for large-scale applications.
Microsoft said 70,000 partners are trained on Office and that about 400 custom applications based on Office System 2003 have been built since last year.
Microsoft's rival IBM, meanwhile, is also pursuing partners in a client software initiative. Big Blue has developed software, called Workplace, that uses a Web portal approach to deliver documents and data to front-end applications.