In a switch, Microsoft conference touts Office
Program capabilities highlighted

Microsoft Corp. routinely holds conferences to persuade independent software developers to make programs that run on, plug into or enhance its software.

But an event this week comes with a new twist -- focusing not on the Windows operating system as a development platform, but rather on Microsoft Office programs.

The first Microsoft Office System Developer Conference began yesterday on the company's Redmond campus. The three-day event is part of an ongoing effort by Microsoft to transform the Office productivity suite and related programs into more than standard word-processing, spreadsheet, database, communication and presentation programs.

The division that includes Microsoft Office is Microsoft's second-largest, although its revenue slipped last quarter from $2.86 billion to $2.78 billion. Microsoft hopes the effort to broaden and enhance the capabilities of its Office programs will expand the market for them in the long run.

"Developers are really the critical element of making all this happen," said Richard McAniff, Microsoft Office corporate vice president, during his keynote address yesterday.

The latest version of Microsoft Office, released in 2003, was renamed the Microsoft Office System in part to denote the addition of new server-based programs meant to enhance the capabilities of the standard Office programs for desktop computers, such as Word and Excel.

The company also has given Office programs the ability to read and exchange data in a format known as XML. A number of the add-ons and complementary programs created by outside developers take advantage of that XML capability.

Although Microsoft spent yesterday's opening session touting the capabilities of the current Office version, McAniff didn't say anything during his address about the details or possible timing of the next version.

More than 800 software developers are attending the conference. Examples of companies in attendance include NewsGator, which makes a Microsoft Outlook add-on that lets people use the e-mail program to receive and read news and headlines delivered in a format called RSS. Many other companies at the conference make software that enhances Microsoft Office programs for specialized use within businesses.

One company on the attendee list probably wouldn't have been there had the conference been held a year ago. Sun Microsystems, which settled its antitrust dispute with Microsoft in April, sent a small contingent from the team that works on StarOffice -- a competing productivity suite based on open-source technology. Their attendance is part of ongoing discussions between Microsoft and Sun about the compatibility of word-processing files and other documents created in the two systems, said Sun spokeswoman Melissa Pereira.

Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, is scheduled to speak at the event tomorrow.

Source: Seattle University