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Microsoft Shows Off New Office XML Tool

Microsoft continued to drip out details of its latest version of Office software, unveiling a new XML-based application to allow businesses to create forms and then integrate the information into their business processes.

Dubbed XDocs, the program is slated for availability in the middle of 2003, when Microsoft also plans to roll out its much-hyped Office 11 suite. The company did not say if XDocs would be bundled with all versions of Office.

"The vision for XDocs is to deliver on the needs of our customers by connecting XML Web services to information workers at their desktops," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement. "XDocs provides new ways to gather and reuse company data, enabling better information flow, more informed decisions and greater integration of people with business processes throughout an organization."

Microsoft has beat the collaboration drum for much of the year, heralding XML-based Web services as the bridge to connect the many Microsoft applications already running on most workers' computers, from Office to Outlook. At the TechXNY/PC Expo in June, Microsoft showed off Outlook's new messaging and collaboration client.

Microsoft said XDocs would enable businesses to more efficiently manage the mountains of information they collect by linking the data collected in an XDocs form to other Microsoft applications. The company said XDocs will appear to the user much like Word, only the user can construct the form to suit the user's business needs.

As an example, a sales report created in XDocs would be able to capture critical data, such as how much a particular company bought, which would be used in other sales reports. Since it is in XML, the data can be easily transferred to various other programs and internal databases without translation or additional programming, the company said.

Along with unveiling XDocs, Ballmer heralded Microsoft studies that showed customers could save money by upgrading to Window XP and Office XP.

He pointed to the company's findings that showed Windows XP Professional customers generating an average return on investment (ROI) or 200 percent over a three-year period.

"As I talk with IT managers, I'm hearing that they must justify their technology investments more than ever before," Ballmer said. "Companies still on the Windows 95 or Windows 98 platforms are missing out on the incredible benefits that come with the combination of Windows XP and Office XP."

Microsoft has done more than just evangelize customers to the benefits of its latest versions of software, introducing a controversial software-licensing scheme this summer that locked companies into upgraded versions of Microsoft software.