Microsoft users get ability to ship via FedEx from inside Outlook

Package-delivery firm offers free add-in for scheduling pickups, tracking packages

FedEx Corp. has created a free add-in for Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook e-mail and collaboration software that lets users check delivery rates, schedule pickups and track packages.

Called FedEx QuickShip, the new tool lets users of Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2007 send packages to contacts in their address books via FedEx with a single mouse click, according to Chris Bryant, senior product manager at Microsoft's Office platform strategy team. That capability saves FedEx customers from having to upload or retype the address and contact information of recipients, he added.

The Web services add-in is a prelude to other collaborative offerings being planned by Microsoft and FedEx, which bought Kinko's chain of copying and printing stores four years ago to gain access to new electronic document delivery services and other technologies.

Future joint offerings will include the ability to print documents stored in a Microsoft SharePoint library on printers in Kinko's stores. FedEx is also working enable users to print Word documents on Kinko's printers, Bryant said. In the latter scenario, users would be able to control the type of paper and bindings that are used and whether the documents would be picked up at the store or shipped to an address.

FedEx QuickShip will be shown off this morning by Bill Gates, Microsoft's soon-to-depart chairman, during his opening keynote at the software vendor's Office System Developer Conference 2008. About 1,000 attendees are expected at the conference, which is being held through Wednesday in San Jose.

The conference is aimed at encouraging software developers to write applications that integrate with Microsoft's dominant Office suite or that connect it with back-end applications from vendors such as SAP AG or Oracle Corp. Previous versions of the conference were invitation-only affairs held at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., but Bryant said the company decided to open the registration to this year's event.

Microsoft isn't the first software vendor that FedEx has partnered with to try to to help generate business for its 1,600 Kinko's stores. Last June, Adobe Systems Inc. released a version of its Adobe Reader software for PDF documents that included a "send to FedEx Kinko's" button on its main toolbar and in the file menu.

Adobe also built a similar button into its Acrobat document-creation software. But it quickly axed the Kinko's menu options from both Reader and Acrobat after getting complaints from other printing companies that were unhappy with how it was steering business to Kinko's. FedEx has continued to distribute from its own Web site a version of Adobe Reader with the "send to" button still built in.

Microsoft hopes to avoid such controversy. "You download [FedEx QuickShip] only if you want it," Bryant said.

The software vendor is heavily encouraging partners such as FedEx to create such add-ins, which Microsoft calls Office Business Applications, or OBAs. Microsoft hopes the OBAs will help it differentiate Office from other desktop software suites, especially free ones such as OpenOffice.org and IBM's Symphony, which is based on the OpenOffice.org code.

Currently, there are about 250 OBAs registered and for sale at OBA Central, a Web site set up by Microsoft. But many more have been built by companies for in-house use, according to Bryant. He said that most of the OBAs integrate either with Outlook or Excel, the latter in the case of more data-heavy applications.

Bryant claimed that Fortune 1,000 companies each run seven CRM applications on average because of acquisitions and mergers. OBAs can help ameliorate the technical differences between such applications by enabling Office to become the primary front end for all of them, he said.

With Microsoft determined to maintain Office as an installed desktop application in the face of hosted challengers such as Google Apps, company officials are especially keen to see the emergence of OBAs that connect to the so-called computing cloud as part of Microsoft's "Software+Services" strategy.

"We firmly believe in Software+Services and that the desktop hasn't diminished in value," Bryant said. "[But] when you have to jump from Outlook to a Web browser to consume a Web service, it's an interruption to your workflow."

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