Microsoft's Office 2007 productivity suite, due out at the end this month, will mark a change in direction for the software package.
Office 2007 is being positioned as a business application platform that will act as a front end for third-party business applications from the likes of SAP and Oracle.
The suite will include enterprise-class business intelligence, business process management, enterprise application integration and advanced collaboration.
Office Business Application Services will enable it to integrate with third-party applications via web services and XML. The Duet initiative with SAP, which has been available since June, will allow SAP processes to be accessed via Office. Oracle and others have also been working with Microsoft behind the scenes to enable integration.
Richard Edwards, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said two client technologies in Office 2007 illustrate this deeper integration. These are the new version of electronic forms tool Infopath, and Onenote, which integrates into Outlook and other communications platforms. On the server side, he said that the combination of the business collaboration products Windows Sharepoint Server and Windows Sharepoint Services would also be attractive to many users.
"We are seeing a high pent-up demand for Sharepoint Services - 60% of the organisations we asked plan to exploit it. The larger the organisation, the greater the likelihood of them using it with enterprise content management software," said Edwards.
It is this sort of integration that makes Office 2007 so different from past releases, said analysts.
For users who find the upgrade to Office 2007 too expensive, free or cheap productivity software could be an alternative - particularly for smaller companies that only use a small percentage of Office functions, said David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum. He said suppliers such as Google were developing alternatives to Excel and Word that may eventually be worth deploying.
However, Bradshaw warned these were not really an option for enterprise users. "Some people have concerns about putting a lot of data on the web," he said.
What's in Office 2007?
The full Office 2007 suite includes updated versions of Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, Word, Access, Communicator, Groove, Infopath, Onenote and Publisher. The software also has a new interface with a "ribbon" rather than a taskbar. This presents commands organised into a set of tabs.
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