My vocal support for the next version of Microsoft Office has drawn heat in various quarters. Naysayers are convinced that Microsoft will find some way to cripple the XML capabilities of Word, Excel, and InfoPath. I've said they're wrong. These products do XML by the book. Even more importantly, they embody a vision that's eluded the Web services plumbers: people are SOAP endpoints too. Business processes do not exist in some separate universe in which XML packets flow untouched by human hands. We're not just input sources and output sinks. We have to be monitors and exception-handlers too. And when our ubiquitous personal productivity tools enable us to see and touch XML data, we can be.
Unfortunately, the power to see and touch XML data now seems a lot less ubiquitous than it did a couple of weeks ago. InfoPath will be bundled only with the volume-licensed Enterprise Edition of Office 2003. (It will also be available as a standalone.) Customer-defined schemas in Word and Excel will be supported in the
Microsoft argues that because Pro outsells Standard at retail, and because businesses prefer
There's the rub. Microsoft now sees schema support and InfoPath as an enterprise play that might — or might not — trickle down. I think they're an enterprise play too, but I reject the trickle-down theory. The most vibrant XML applications today are coming from the grassroots up, in the form of RSS-enabled Weblogs. The network of RSS producers and consumers, which is growing like gangbusters, has become a laboratory for leading technologists at IBM and Microsoft. Just this week, I joined them in an initiative to enable transmission of full-strength user-defined XML in RSS feeds. I don't know how best to use this capability, and neither does anybody else. But I'm sure that an open network with low barriers to entry is the only way to find out.