Bill Gates delivered the keynote speech to kick off the Office Developer conference in San Jose. Unsurprisingly, the ‘Last day at the office’ video was played. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s quite a good chuckle:

(The YouTube version isn’t complete but you get the picture)

The content of Bill’s speech wasn’t hugely exciting. Probably because Office 14 is still being kept under wraps publicly. The following are some brief notes. The Q&A at the end is where it gets interesting…

It was curious to see the Server Platform referenced as being SharePoint Server, Exchange Server and Office Communications Server. No sign of Groove… Bill made lots of references to data connections between client, server and online services. The Business Data Catalog (BDC) is a new feature in SharePoint Server 2007. I think it is a safe bet to assume that this feature will be maturing rapidly over the next couple of product releases.

FedEx provided a demonstration of integrating their online services into Office applications. They also announced their intent to build web parts that will integrate natively into SharePoint. This could be particularly interesting in context of Office Live Small Business (see later). Resources are being posted at It looks like FedEx has twigged to the benefits Amazon has realised from enabling people to hook into their online services and data storage…

Bill outlined programmability across clients and servers, integrating into online services.

For the client:

  • Presentation = Fluent UI (aka the ‘ribbon’) + Task Panes
  • Logic = Object model
  • Data = OpenXML file formats

The ribbon is seen as a big success in changing and improving the client UI. It is planned to expand it into other applications.

Examples given: AdSage – specialist ribbon within Excel for analysing the performance of advertising key words (integration with AdCenter); Mindjet MindManager is using the ribbon (makes you wonder if MS will one day buy a mind mapping tool…) and Xobni (‘inbox’ spelt backwards) that has created a task pane within Outlook to display email trends and social networks.

For the server:

  • Presentation = Higher level services (don’t ask) + web parts, pages and
    templates (aka SharePoint)
  • Logic = workflow
  • Data = business data connections (yup, referencing the BDC again…)

Web services span all three, from data through to presentation

Examples given: MSW (Microsoft’s internal intranet built on SharePoint) integration with Siebel to increase productivity and improve usability (anyone who has used the Siebel client will understand that philosophy); PNMSoft (MS partner in Israel) has built a business process management (BPM) solution using SharePoint and Office to connect processes across back-end applications and visualise them (nice).

Visual Studio 2008 is being launched and the Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) are now built-in.

Office Live Small Business Winter 2008 Release

Well that’s what was on the slide – looks like the product/service names are getting longer again… let’s just call it OLSBW08R 🙂

OLSBW08R is basically hosted SharePoint with some tweaks. It includes a web-based tool called Office Live Site Designer (let’s call it OLSD… no ‘funny’ comments please.) OLSD isn’t to be confused with SharePoint Designer or Office, but it actually looks like a hybrid of the two. You get a built-in ribbon and the page is broken into components that can have web parts added to them… imagine that, web parts. Like, I don’t know, you wanted to track parcels. Wouldn’t it be useful if a delivery service like FedEx agreed to build web parts to integrate into SharePoint… 😉

OLSBW08R, despite being in dire need of a better name, looks to have some interesting features that I’ll likely cover in a separate blog post (I’ve had a half-written ‘Google Apps vs Office Live’ waiting to be finished since before Xmas). The demo in the keynote showed how you can quickly integrate images and make connections to services such as Virtual Earth. I’ve got a non-techie friend who I set up with an Office Live account last September. It took him about 30 minutes to find Virtual Earth and drop it into his web site. That’s quite impressive. And a useful application of Web 2.0

More about OLSBW08R can be found at dev.

To close the keynote, there was nearly 30 minutes of open Q&A with Bill. This was a great treat that made you realise just how far apart Bill is from other senior folk at MS. He was able to answer questions on any subject with a reasoned opinion, even if it was a topic he wasn’t that close to. Other execs seem to lack that passion or intensity (Balmer not included).

The following is not a word-perfect transcript. It’s just the typing scribbles I made during the Q&A session, anything in brackets are my own comments added. No guarantees about accuracy blah blah blah (I’d put ‘without prejudice’ but that’s just taking blog writing far too seriously…)

Q – What’s with Yahoo?

A – Yahoo has done great work. They have great engineers but the question has always been should they become pure media or keep a mix of engineering and media. Using an ad model, you need scale. Only one company has that scale (yup, it’s not just Balmer who avoids the ‘G’ word). How do you combine engineering R&D with scale? There is a strategy of giving up engineering and just doing media, and give up engineering to somebody else. We don’t believe in that approach and plan to keep engineering core to the business

Q – What’s the next killer app?

A – Not sure we are going to have one killer app that takes over everything. In a sense, SharePoint is becoming central – the potential to replace email attachment culture with attaching to a web site instead. Excel will continue to be very important for BI (business intelligence). The fastest growing module in Office is OneNote. It is way behind the others right now but I see it joining the others as an equal in the future. It is great for gathering disparate data together from a variety of different applications

Q – What’s with Unified Communications?

A – Unified communications (UC) is a big deal. The desktop telephone has always been a separate entity, why can’t it be software driven? Once it is, you can automatically transfer calls to the mobile, to the PC, create interactive applications, set up behaviour rules to determine calls you will and won’t answer depending on context. This all becomes possible when software drives the hardware. Things like presence information becomes ubiquitous. This can save time and money – reduces the cost of telecomms and saves costs through better interaction. (Bill became very animated about this – big clue that UC is important to Microsoft going forward)

Q – MS vs Open Source

A – (Bill now a lot less animated). (Didn’t capture the response in words but he didn’t make the distinction between free software and open source software. Instead just focused the response on not paying for software, how MS has always had free elements of software, that other types of free software typically have a cost associated such as a support contract.)

Q – Why is the SharePoint documentation not so good

A – SharePoint is playing catchup to the client. SharePoint has caught us by surprise. We always knew it would become a mainstram tool but it has really accelerated in the last 18 months. Please give you us your feedback during th
e conference about what you specifically want to see, this is an area we are working on. (SharePoint is certainly getting the most attention, despite this being the Office DevCon and a separate SharePoint conference coming up next month.)

Q – What’s with the new declarative ‘D’ language

A – Most code that is written today is procedural code. It has always been the holy grail of development that you shouldn’t have to write so much procedural code, you ought to be able to do it on a declarative basis. In the past, data models were too weak. But we now have stronger data models, such as XML schemas. They are much richer and, in that environment, a lot of business logic can be done in declarative form. Don’t know just how much can be done today, we are doing a lot of research in this area. But we believe that declarative modelling should take the requirement for procedural code down to 10% of what it is today. This is something that will change software development but more likely in a 5 – 8 year timeframe than overnight. (Bill was clearly very passionate about this subject – add it to the ‘hot topic’ list to track.) (Side note: I often get asked about why so much of SharePoint’s UI customisations are done as XML – here’s your answer. It’s not a perfect solution today, but it’s a starting point for reducing the amount of compiled code required to customise the product.). This question and answer cropped up on Techmeme straight after the keynote – Infoworld: Gates talks up declarative language – I’m assuming it was the reporter who asked the question, ‘else spotted its importance)

Q – Office for Mac and the Fluent UI

A – (it appears that the latest release of Office for Apple PCs does not include the ribbon UI) Mac Office is somewhat diverged from traditional Office, to take full advantage of the Apple hardware and their system direction. It’s forked code. Some elements of extensibility do cross over, such as OpenXML formats. Some features do not translate. The aim is to make Office for Mac as Mac-ish as possible. Not all features translate.

Q – Google Office works everywhere. How can we avoid VPN with MS stuff

A – There are several answers to that one. SharePoint needs to be able to render a broader set of documents into rich HTML. We are also working on things that are equivalent to OWA – that’s what to keep in mind. We want the equivalent of OWA for Office, won’t be full functionality but should be able to do the common tasks. This is part of the O14 dev plan. (Bill became quite passionate again about this one.)

Q – Customising MOSS is sometimes harder to do vs just build from scratch on ASP.NET

A – There is a huge thing that I am very keen on driving is that our richest data store by far is SQL Server. Big theme in the next version of SharePoint is to let you manipulate actual SQL tables as lists (insert fanfare audio), you don’t give up the ability to have lightweight lists like today but these will be ‘super’ lists. A big theme is how much split there is between .NET and SharePoint – how much is stored within SharePoint versus SharePoint being the user interface (UI) for incredibly rich data structures that exist natively underneath. (Bill became quite animated again – it’s them data connections…)

Additional references:

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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Thanks Sharon, you captured the experience of hearing Bill speak very well.

  2. Nice summary. For more info on the FedEx QuickShip Outlook add-in, as well as some screenshots showing what FedEx is looking into for Word (Kinkos) and Sharepoint, see here: .

  3. Many thanks both! Comments always help keep the blog going 🙂

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