XML offers better flexibility but gives users too much control in Office 2003

Microsoft promises to change how users create, access and manage information, by making XML the foundation for its forthcoming...

Microsoft promises to change how users create, access and manage information, by making XML the foundation for its forthcoming Office 2003 productivity suite, writes Karl Cushing.

Microsoft is positioning Office 2003 as a hub for front-end applications such as customer relationship management. By using data language XML as a base for documents, it will make it easier for data generated in front-end applications to be submitted to back-end applications such as Oracle databases.

The downside of this increased flexibility is that IT managers may see an increase in problems created by tech-savvy end-users who experiment with the new functionality.

Simon Ratcliffe, a consultant at Business Systems Group, said, "Office 2003 blurs the boundaries between users and developers by giving users more control over data." This could lead to support issues as users create "mini-applications" around Office 2003. "You could end up with a bit of a mess," he said.

Ratcliffe stressed the need for users to document their actions and be made more accountable. "I do not think businesses are quite ready for XML, and we are not seeing a big demand for Office 2003 at the moment. It is one more thing to think about. Most companies are too busy sitting tight and focusing on consolidation," he said.

Tim Jennings, research director at analyst firm Butler Group, said the support issues for Office 2003 would come more from managing the transition from earlier forms of Office than from supporting XML itself.

He said, "IT departments are used to handling XML now." Jennings believes a more important issue will be managing communication with partners on older versions of Office.

He also warned that if users start building applications around Office 2003, there was a risk users could end up with "a Microsoft applications vision".

Microsoft acknowledged that another issue companies may encounter when they deploy XML is the relatively large size of XML files. This could result in band-

width problems for organisations looking to transfer large numbers of files over relatively slow connections such as GPRS or dial-up modem.

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