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Microsoft Adapts With Interoperability

Microsoft is extending features of a product it hasn't even brought to market yet.

The new feature (LOBi, for line-of-business interoperability), is billed as a future set of capabilities that will work together with Microsoft Office client applications and Office SharePoint Server 2007 -- which should be available in October -- and make those tools work more effectively together.

The company is hoping to capitalize on changes in the way people and businesses interact with each other to drive sales of Office and other enterprise suites.

Chris Capossela, corporate vice president for Microsoft's information worker product management group, said that LOBi will allow users to use multiple aspects of Office 2007 products without flipping from application to application.

Best of all, said Capossela, it all happens within an environment with which people are familiar.

"A familiar Office user experience is a big win for people," he said.

Of course, observers have noted that Microsoft has made so many changes to its user interface with Office 2007 that most users will be confused rather than comforted by the new environment.

The most notable change is that the familiar toolbars have been replaced by a ribbon of command icons that change depending on actions taken by the user.

"The Office interface is no longer familiar," said Joe Wilcox, an analyst who follows Microsoft for JupiterResearch.

But Capossela disputes that notion.

"I don't buy that when we've dramatically simplified it that users won't feel it's familiar,"

Capossela also said that Microsoft had done significant usability testing to support his claim.

The bulk of Capossela's presentation at the TechEd conference here today concerned interoperability between Office 2007 and Office SharePoint Server 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and Office Live Communications Server "12."

But it's clear that Microsoft is banking on this suite of new enterprise products to drive greater adoption to Office 2007 than occurred for previous releases of Office.

Capossela acknowledged that "enterprise customers take longer to migrate," but believes that changes in the way people do business have undergone significant shifts -- more so than changes that occurred between, say, 2000 and 2003.

"RSS feeds, wikis, blogs--those things didn't exist the last time we released a new version of Office," he said.

Capossela said that Microsoft focused on three trends in developing these new releases: increased collaboration both within and between organizations, the fact that knowledge workers are under pressure to "always be on, always connected," and greater organizational transparency.

So Microsoft has organized its new offering around three principles: unified communications and collaboration, business intelligence and enterprise content management.

"This is the new world of work," said Capossela. "Software has a role to play in helping deal with the changing workplace."

Microsoft is building on six services that apply to all three principles: workflow tools, search, business data, extensible user interface, open XML file formats and security frameworks.

In a related session, Dave Thompson, corporate vice president of Exchange at Microsoft, discussed how voice, video, data and applications are converging under a unified communication infrastructure.

The goal of unified communications is to provide users reliable and secure access to e-mail, instant messaging, calendars and other collaboration features from any computing device.

To illustrate this goal, Thompson accessed his voice mail, instant messaging, e-mail contact list and calendar with the client-facing Microsoft Outlook Web Access, which was powered on the back end by Exchange Server 2007.

Thompson interacted with an automated facilitator over the phone, checking voicemail and e-mails and reorganizing his schedule.

The executive said being able to switch between different communication modalities will be a driving force in Exchange Server 2007 when beta 2 appears in July.

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