Microsoft Australia has begun offering new opportunities for the development of Smart Tags, customisable data services that can be deployed in the soon-to-be-released Office XP.
Smart Tags are extensible links that connect content in Office-based documents (such as Word files and spreadsheets) to related content on servers, Web sites and other files. Smart Tags move beyond the functionality of the hyperlink as they allow for the automatic recognition of types and patterns of data, and can launch a variety of actions based on this recognition.
As an example, a simple Smart Tag might search through Office XP documents for addresses or names. If it found a name, it could be customised to offer the user the ability to send mail or pull-address details into Microsoft Outlook. Smart Tags include a recogniser component, which searches for data based on a pre-defined list, and an action component that retrieves information from a database.
Third-party developers will develop these services. According to Microsoft product marketing manager Miles Gustafson, for the technology to be widely adopted it was important that Microsoft provided the infrastructure while third-party developers created customised Smart Tags for various uses.
Microsoft Australia has begun introducing developer partners to the Smart Tags concept in preparation for the release of Office XP in June 2001. Gustafson said there were two different kinds of partners most interested in developing the Smart Tags.
The first group is Internet content providers, such as Australian financial content site Investorweb. The developers at Investorweb have created a Smart Tag that automatically recognises ASX (Australian Stock Exchange) symbols within Office documents, and offers the ability to retrieve information on the company mentioned.
The second group is those developers which provide a broad range of services to corporate customers, and will develop highly customised Smart Tags to suit the specific needs of the business. Microsoft Australia has already made agreements with listed Web developer Software Communications Group (Sofcom), which intends to offer Smart Tag development services as a value-add to its client base.
"With our help, Office documents will no longer be just two-dimensional text on a page," said Jon Gomes, project director at Sofcom. "Smart Tags will make Office documents useful and functional components of a company's information management chain."
While Smart Tags will be able to retrieve information from a variety of sources (not just from Microsoft SQL databases), the capability is only relevant for users of Office XP, which is not due for release for over a month. Gustafson is confident these kinds of capabilities will make Office XP popular in any case, but it will take time for the technology to become widely adopted.
The Microsoft Office XP Smart
Tag SDK is a toolkit with the full documentation and code samples for developers to create Smart Tag actions and recognisers. It is available from msdn.microsoft.com/office/Photograph: Microsoft's Miles Gustafson