Office 11 and XML

Jon Udell talks to Jean Paoli on XML in Office 11:

On mining back-end data:

Paoli: “When we started XML, I wanted to focus on the server side, because we needed infrastructure. We needed data. Now, it’s achieved. All the back ends support XML — ERP systems, SAP, Siebel can output XML. And now I can pop that data into Excel, directly. I’m the most thrilled by the overall Office vision, which is to enable end-users to create XML. But we don’t even have to wait for that to use all the analysis features of Excel on existing XML data. It’s a big gift to the XML community.”

Udell: Agreed. Every database can now deliver query results as XML. Having done my fair share of analysis of such data in Excel, I can attest to the breakthrough that Excel 11 represents. Sure, shredding the result of a SQL Server “FOR XML” query is just a simple matter of XSLT programming. But that isn’t very productive. When you suck raw XML data into Excel 11, the XPath expressions that target elements are written for you, and subsetting and rearranging the data reduces to dragging XML-mapped elements onto the spreadsheet. It’s a huge win.

On the right tool for the job:

Paoli: “All our tools are XML editors now: Word, Excel, XDocs. But we shouldn’t think about XML editors, we should think about the task at hand. If I want to create documents with a lot of text, that’s Word. With XDocs, the task is to gather information in structured form. And with Excel, it’s to analyze information. We have this great toolbox which enables you to analyze data. We can do pie charts, pivot tables, I don’t know how many years of development of functionality for analyzing data. So we said, now we are going to feed Excel all the XML files that you can find in nature.”

Udell: Leveraging the strengths of the tools was clearly the right way to add XML support to Office. In Version 11, Word and Excel can still do everything they used to be able to do, only now they can do those things with XML data. It’s a huge advance. However, I’m still hungry for XML authoring support in the tools that I spend most of my day using, and that you probably do too: the browser and the e-mail client. If the goal is to enrich as much user data as possible, the browser’s TEXTAREA widget and the e-mail client’s message composer are arguably the most strategic targets for XML authoring support.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.