Microsoft has announced it plans to hold its first-ever conference for Microsoft Office software developers.
The conference, scheduled for February 2005, is part of a growing effort by the software manufacturer to build a thriving software development community around its popular suite of productivity software.
Though developers have been able to build custom software - macros - within Office applications, these macros were not typically used to share data between applications.
With the release of Office 2003, and its support of Extensible Markup Language (XML) that equation has changed, and the company has begun promoting Office as a platform for writing applications that are integrated with server software, said Dan Leach, group product manager with Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group.
Developers can now integrate Office clients with Microsoft server products such as the Sharepoint Portal Server, Project Server, and the Live Communications Server, he said.
"We have really moved beyond thinking of Office as a desktop productivity application," he said.
The conference is being launched as a way to help independent software suppliers, systems integrators and enterprise customers take advantage of this new architecture, Leach said.
"We are doing it because we are getting so many questions for this kind of information and assistance," he said.
Microsoft also hopes to stay one step ahead of rivals like IBM, which have been promoting open source software and browser-based "thin client" applications as an alternative to Office, analysts said.
"It is a really important part of the strategy now because office upgrades have slowed down and there are competitors like OpenOffice.org peaking over the horizon," said Rob Helm, research director at Directions on Microsoft.
"Otherwise it becomes very difficult to convince enterprises that they need another version of Word or Powerpoint," he said.
The conference also will give Microsoft an opportunity to explain to developers how best to use the various development tools that are available to Office developers, Helm said.
Leach's group has started sending out invitations to the conference to 1,000 select developers, he said.
The company expects approximately 800 attendees at the event, which will be held between 2 and 4 February in Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft's headquarters are located.
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service