Notes from the Office Developers Conference, Redmond

Whilst the public attention might have been on Mix 06 recently in Las Vegas, at the same time a smaller, but equally important event took place on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, which I attended, the second Microsoft Office Developers Conference. Here are a few personal notes and comments from the event, for those who are interested in how our Office developer story is unfolding.

 Bill Gates was an ebullient mood and on form for his keynote, especially during Q&A. He did a good job of tying in his keynote in with the Mix 06 keynote he had delivered the previous day down in Las Vegas, around the integration of the web and office. One of the big announcements was , a community site supporting Open XML (“it has three of my favourite words ‘open’, ‘XML’ and ‘developer’ he joked). You can see the video on demand here.  (Bill Gates also gave an interview with InformationWeek just before the dev con, which you can read here, which explains more of his thinking.)

Part of the keynote included a very compelling demo, that showed end to end the various client and server elements of the Office platform all fully integrated (Excel services, SharePoint, Open XML, Workflow, etc). It showed a number of scenarios that I think many people can relate to, and find relevant to their own business or systems they need to build / integrate with.

The new Office UI seemed to be well received, especially as delegates got to see the recently released TR1 refresh. Most seemed very positive about the amount of time it would take users to get used to it, and how much more discoverable it is, and how difficult it would be to go back to 2003. One of the best ways to see the new UI in action, and get a bit more background on the design decisions behind it, is to check out this short video . You can also seen some screen shots and discussion on Jensen Harris’s blog.

 There was a big emphasis on the server side element to what has traditionally been a more client based offering. Many attendees were impressed how rich the server technology stack now is. SharePoint 3.0 provides integrated workflow support (via Windows Workflow Foundation), native support for ASP.NET 2.0, as well as out-of-the-box support for new Web technologies such as blogs, wikis and RSS (The SharePoint team also have a blog. The Office SharePoint Server 2007 introducing new functionality including enterprise content management capabilities, business intelligence with Web-based spreadsheet capabilities delivered vai Excel Services, electronic forms via InfoPath Forms Services, as well as information and people search enhancements, etc. I can see many developers looking to build on these or integrate into these technologies.

On the client side, attendees were given an early technology preview of Visual Studio Tools For Office (VSTO) v3, which allows them to integrate their own code inside Word, Excel, etc, making it easy to surface and manipulate information directly within Office, rather than switch to some other tool to cut and paste information. A few of us went out for a drink with Andrew Whitechapel, who works on the VSTO team, to get the latest info – you can check out his blog .

The ability to manipulate the Office Open XML documents under programmatic control was evident in many sessions, with demos showing how custom applications can more easily create or manipulate the data within a document, leading to much better integration between Office and external systems, as well as automating the production of many types of documents. If you want to know more about Open XML Format, check out Brian Jones’s blog who delivered some of the sessions at the event.

One of the most useful sites for more links and information: