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Microsoft 'RAPs' Something New For Office

Microsoft is shipping two new "reference applications packs" or RAPs for its Office Business Applications (OBA) initiative – one providing guidance for how to build effective plant analytics applications and the other for how to successfully create electronic forms management workflows.

Both are provided as free Virtual PC virtual machines (VM) that demonstrate how developers can build applications to address specific tasks using Office 2007, SharePoint Server, and other Office tools such as InfoPath services. (Virtual PC is free.)

"Reference application packs provide guidance for building OBAs [which are] specifically targeted at one industry and at a problem that's well understood within that industry," Daz Wilkin, program manager in Microsoft's platform strategy group, told internetnews.com.

For instance, the plant analytics RAP provides a virtualized application that models a gas processing scenario. It includes a business dashboard that displays key performance indicators that enables managers to see whether gas processing is running smoothly or whether, as an example, the system is experiencing problems caused by a faulty pump.

"[In that case], it creates an alert that could go out via Outlook, an RSS  feed, or [be displayed] on the dashboard," Wilkin said. "The goal is to help manufacturers pull information from reams of data from back end systems and make it useful from the top to near the bottom of the organization [so that], with effective analytics, businesses can make better decisions," he added.

The other new RAP demonstrates how to build effective electronic forms applications for civic organizations, primarily governments. It takes advantage of workflow capabilities provided in Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Earlier this month, Microsoft also shipped a RAP for health plans.

Besides the demonstration VM, each RAP also has its own page on the Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN), which includes PowerPoint presentations for both developers and managers, as well as white papers and other materials.

Office Business Applications combine the capabilities of Office 2003 and 2007 with a company's line of business applications such as CRM  or ERP  to provide comprehensive solutions to business problems. The RAPs are aimed at helping ISVs and corporate developers to more easily deploy OBAs.

"This is guidance – not a solution – but it helps them understand how to build a solution," Wilkin said.