Microsoft Provides Peek At Office 12, Touts Distributed Forms Capability

In what he termed the first public viewing of Office 12, Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft&'s Information Worker Product Management Group, showed off a distributed forms capability that would enable customers to easily fill in and submit XML forms via a browser, without having to run Microsoft InfoPath on their PCs. The audience: a few thousand attendees of Microsoft&'s annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Minneapolis, earlier in July.

Capossela referred generally to a forms server without much more detail, but CRN last year reported that Microsoft is working on an InfoPath Server, or Forms Server, for debut with Office 12 in the second half of 2006.

Forms will appear the same, regardless of whether they are viewed in a browser or from SharePoint and can be routed around easily via e-mail. The adoption of InfoPath thus far has been hampered by the fact that users without InfoPath on their desktops cannot participate fully in the forms routing process, partners have said.

Capossela also showed off the upcoming Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager, code-named Maestro, due this fall.

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Along with the Office 12 wave, Groove Networks&' collaboration software, now called Virtual Office, will officially become part of the Microsoft Office System lineup, he said. Microsoft completed its buyout of Groove, Beverly, Mass., earlier this year.

Microsoft has been loath to speak much on the upcoming Office 12 even though many customers and partners have been hounding the Redmond, Wash.-based company for details. Many large accounts are looking for reasons to re-up their multiyear volume licensing agreements, and Office updates are a primary incentive. Capossela said the company plans to offer deeper Office 12 technology details at its Professional Developers Conference in September.

CRN has learned of major interface rework now under way aimed displaying a user&'s most desired features and functions and eliminating icon clutter.

In other Office news, Capossela publicly acknowledged at the partner conference that the underlying architecture of Content Management Server (CMS) and SharePoint Portal Server are converging.

“[SharePoint] and CMS are part of the Office System. Both businesses are growing really well. We do think of SharePoint and CMS very much together. CMS is for running Internet sites, SharePoint for intranet sites and team collaboration,” he told a few hundred attendees.

“In the Office 12 time frame, we are looking to unify the underlying architecture that those two products use so you won&'t have the chasm you have today.”

Still, he left open the question of pricing and packaging. Whether these servers will be one, two or four products remains to be determined, Capossela said.