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XDocs designed to help users design, modify XML forms

By Carol Sliwa
October 14, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - ORLANDO -- Microsoft Corp.'s plans to deliver software that can help users design, modify and work with XML-based forms, with little or no coding, have sparked a wild mix of reactions—from confusion to rabid enthusiasm—since they were announced last week (see story).


The grand vision is to make it easy for users to submit data to or extract data or reports from important business applications, such as customer relationship or supply chain management systems.


But with details still sketchy, some level of confusion isn't surprising. For starters, Microsoft hasn't even been clear about whether the software, code-named XDocs, will be sold as a separate product.


Company literature refers to XDocs as the newest member of the Microsoft Office family, but officials wouldn't say whether that means XDocs, which is due in the middle of next year, will be part of the Office suite of applications, like Word and Excel are, or part of the Office "family" of products, which includes Project and FrontPage.


John Vail, director of product management for Microsoft's information worker product management group, said packaging, licensing and pricing details have yet to be resolved.


The Latest Killer App?


But some analysts are looking beyond the dearth of details to the potential long-term impact of XDocs. Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., predicted that the new software will be a "killer app" that shifts control of corporate data from the IT department into the hands of all employees, who will gain an easier way to access applications from vendors such as SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc.


"It's going to absolutely upset the apple cart," Schadler said, referring to the "classic" controlling attitude that IT departments have about their data centers. "Let chaos reign. That's a good thing. Business ultimately will win."


But Schadler acknowledged that it could take 10 years before companies get their applications upgraded and put the necessary XML infrastructure in place for XDocs to have the impact he foresees.


The front-end part of XDocs won't be the issue. Microsoft is trying to make it as easy to create XML forms as it is to build HTML pages using its FrontPage tool, which doesn't require HTML knowledge. Through the familiar Office interface, users can define the structure of the information to be gathered and the type of content each data element will contain.


But for the connections to be made to a company's databases or business applications, the back-end systems must support XML natively in order for XDocs to be of "true value," said Scott Bishop, a Microsoft Office product manager. Today, many corporate IT shops have systems that don't yet support XML natively.



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