Microsoft Details a Few Office 12 Plans

Microsoft on Monday talked up a few features of its next-generation Office release, due next year, which revolve around the concept of "business intelligence." A major focus of Office 12 will be on improving the way users access data in existing applications, thereby making business intelligence (BI) more pervasive.

At the core of this strategy lie changes to SharePoint, Microsoft's intranet and collaboration solution for businesses. Office 12 will tie together SQL Server Reporting Services into SharePoint, as well as offer Web-based support for Excel spreadsheets.

For example, SharePoint users can take the spreadsheet and SQL Server data from different sources to create a customized "dashboard" with charts, which will enable a company to better analyze business performance. Client side Excel spreadsheets can also be connected with SQL and utilize improved filtering and sorting.

In the interim, Microsoft is releasing a new server application designed to help business "score" their performance. Business Scorecard Manager 2005 will ship next month after the launch of SQL Server 2005 and the next Visual Studio on November 7.

Business Scorecard Manager will enable a company to track an employee's performance milestones against project goals within a collaborative environment. But the software won't come cheap: retail pricing is set at $5,000 USD, plus $175 per user.

"Until now, BI software has been too complex, costly and disconnected from the software tools people use every day to do their jobs," said Microsoft Business Division president Jeff Raikes in a statement.

In response, Microsoft says it is making big investments "in Microsoft Office, from significant extensions in existing products such as Office Excel and SharePoint Products and Technologies, to new server investments such as the Office Business Scorecard Manager."

Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox says the moves make sense, but are nothing to write home about.

"As of yet, I see nothing groundbreaking about Microsoft BI plans, but more extension of existing Office capabilities," Wilcox said. "The extension is a natural result of Microsoft's increased cross-integration of features among products like Office, SharePoint Portal Server and SQL Server."

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