Microsoft announces Office Line of Business service

TechEd news adds detail to "People-Ready" vision

“People-Ready” is the latest slo-gan Microsoft is trotting out to describe its business vision. Like its predecessors (remember Win 95’s “Where do you want to go today?”), the catchy phrase, which CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled in March, is supposed to help us conceptualize Microsoft’s vast arsenal of software products and, presumably, make us feel good about using them.

It’s an interesting choice of words, “People-Ready,” implying other software is designed for some other species (“Opposable thumb support built in!”). But with last week’s TechEd 2006 Conference in Boston, the thrust behind “People-Ready” started being felt, as Microsoft revealed more details of its plans to make Office 2007, the next version of its Office suite, the front end of the company’s entire line of business applications.

The company used TechEd to unveil a new service called Line of Business Interoperability for Office SharePoint Server, or LOBi, which will deliver data and processes from a range of back-end applications directly into SharePoint, the portal component of Office.

Developers will be able to get their hands on a preview of LOBi before the end of the year. The technology will be generally available in 2007, said Chris Caren, a Microsoft general manager for Office Business Applications.

Developers will use LOBi and similar services to build Office Business Applications, allowing corporate users to view data and use processes from enterprise applications directly within Office client software.

Search, workflow, business data catalog, extensible user interface, Open XML format, and its Web site and security framework are other underlying services in Office 2007 that will accompany LOBi, Caren said.

So, is “People-Ready” just marketing talk for “No New GUIs?” Perhaps.

Office Business Applications is just one part of Microsoft’s plan to make Office 2007 a comprehensive software suite for work productivity, business intelligence, content management, and worker collaboration.

The company says many businesses are already familiar with using the Office interface, making it a logical choice for encompassing all of the tools business workers need to do their jobs as well as collaborate with colleagues.

But Microsoft still has to articulate clearly to business users how they can utilize all of these Office technologies together, said Shawn Willett, principal analyst with Current Analysis, a high-tech consultancy.

The creation of composite applications will depend on a standard infrastructure that allows data and processes to interact smoothly.

“Workflow and process engines are the underpinnings of the next generation of composite applications,” Willett said. “Having a unified set of tools is a big differentiator.”

Microsoft has been working on developing just such an infrastructure. For evidence, look no further than Duet, a co-development project with SAP that was the company’s first foray into composite applications. Duet will allow workers to access data and processes from SAP’s business applications through Office.