XDocs: Microsoft's Killer XML app?

Microsoft's plans to deliver software that can help users design, modify and work with XML-based forms, with little or no coding,...

Microsoft's plans to deliver software that can help users design, modify and work with XML-based forms, with little or no coding, have sparked both confusion and real enthusiasm since they were announced last week.

The company's 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 details of the product are sketchy. Microsoft has not made it clear 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 and promises it will be available in the middle of next year. However, Microsoft executives have not said whether XDocs 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.

However XDocs comes to market, Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research predicted that the new software would be a "killer app" that shifts control of corporate data from the IT department into the hands of front line staff. It will offer easier access to enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management applications, Schadler said.

"It's going to absolutely upset the apple cart," he added, referring to the "classic" controlling attitude that IT departments have about their data centres.

Despite his enthusiasm 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.

David Yockelson, an analyst at Meta Group, expects a community of independent software vendors to build services that link XDocs and back-end systems via XML-based Web services.

Yockelson also said he thinks Microsoft should make XDocs part of its Office suite, so users would have some incentive to upgrade to a new version.

Daryl Plummer, an analyst at Gartner Group, thought XDocs should be part of Microsoft's Visual Studio development tool suite, in addition to Office. This, he said, would mean "you have a chance of getting it ingrained within the IT mentality" Plummer added that it was not yet clear how much value XDocs will have to corporate IT.

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