Microsoft chairman and chief architect, Bill Gates, introduced new features of the next versions of Microsoft Office and Windows in his keynote at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC).
Gates' speech to kick off Microsoft's developer meeting included the first public demo of the forthcoming Microsoft Office 12. The demo, which showed off a newly designed user interface (UI), was delivered by corporate vice-president of Microsoft's Information Worker (IW) Product Management Group, Chris Capossela.
Capossela also demonstrated new UI features of the latest build of Windows Vista, the next version of the Windows client operating system (OS). Both Vista and the new Office are expected to be available in the second half of 2006. Microsoft also distributed the latest version of Vista to developers at the PDC.
In his talk, Gates said Microsoft had delivered on the promise it laid out at PDC 2000 to provide a Web-services based platform, .Net, that would allow business users to share files and data in a standard way through XML. "That was quite a proposition to put forth when Win32 was dominant," he said, of the shift to an entirely new development platform.
Now that the .Net foundation had been laid and the platform was being widely adopted, the next step for Microsoft was to more closely integrate the features of the applications within Windows and Office to allow the sharing of files and information across an enterprise as seamlessly as possible, Gates said.
This experience would come in part by giving users a more visual presentation of the data and tasks they need to accomplish, he said.
"We need to make it easy for people to visualise information that comes from any location," Gates said.
Microsoft is adding new features to both Windows and Office to bring information stored in the applications, as well as those applications' tools, as close to the surface as possible, he said.
To demonstrate this, Capossela highlighted UI features of Office that make it easier for users to tap into features they may not know existed because they were not easily accessible in previous versions.
"When we asked people what would you like us to do in the next version of Office, nine out of 10 people have named something that is already in the product," Capossela said. "In Office 12, we are making a much more innovative UI to help you get better results faster."
To bring those features to the forefront, Microsoft is providing a visual toolbar across the top of the various Office applications that allow users to easily point and click on features that were hidden in drop-down menus in previous versions of Office, Capossela said.
For instance, in Microsoft PowerPoint, users can simply click on an icon in the tool window to change text on a slide into graphics, and choose from various styles for those graphics. In Microsoft Word, users can preview how an entire document will look in a font by simply scrolling over one of the choices in the font menu. Word users can easily add text boxes by clicking on an icon, and choose from a gallery of different styles of boxes that will easily change the appearance of the document, he demonstrated.
Capossela also showed off how Real Simple Syndication (RSS) has been integrated throughout not only the various Office applications, but also in Windows Vista and in Microsoft Dynamics CRM so users can see and read information from the RSS feeds they have subscribed to without having to use a different application.
Dynamics CRM is the next version of Microsoft's customer relationship management software, a release that is due out later this year. The company rebranded the product and the rest of its ERP (enterprise resource planning) portfolio Dynamics last week at the Microsoft Business Summit.
Other features will also show up across various Microsoft applications to tie them together, Capossela said. The same search box that appears across the top of Internet Explorer 7, the next version of its Web browser in Windows Vista, appears in each component of Office to enable quick and easy full-text search of documents, he demonstrated. Additionally, Windows Vista will have a series of UI enhancements that can deliver real-time data to users. A new feature called Windows Sidebar places a series of gadgets that provide RSS feeds, picture slideshows and other types of information on the right side of the UI. A similar feature, called Widgets, already appears in the OS X 10.4 version of Apple's Tiger OS.
Developers can build their own gadgets to add to Windows Sidebar, as well, Capossela said. More information about this feature can be found at www.Microsoftgadgets.com.
Other enhancements to the Vista interface demonstrated include 3D displays of the various application windows open on the desktop, and full thumbnails of document files, including a snapshot of the information disclosed in them, that can be viewed through file view windows