October 2009

Volume 24 Number 10

Editor’s Note - The Capability-Delivery Business

By Howard Dierking | October 2009

In this month’s issue of MSDN Magazine, we begin taking a look at some of the new features and tools in Visual Studio 2010 and Microsoft .NET Framework 4 that will continue improving the experience of creating business applications that run on the Microsoft Office platform. This is an area of software development that I have always believed holds tremendous potential in terms of ensuring that we are focused on solving the right problems—those being the business problems.

And with each new release, it’s nice to see improvements made to the platform rather than just to the applications that help to realize this potential. We still have a good distance to travel, but we’re getting closer. For example, Steve Fox provides a first look at SharePoint tooling in Visual Studio 2010, while Eric White walks through techniques for dynamically generating documents from SharePoint using XML content controls.

Office productivity applications have been around for a while now—after all, wasn’t office productivity one of the main drivers behind the personal computer revolution? However, if you look at the features that have been added to various products as they have matured, with a couple notable exceptions such as OLE, it seems as though at the core, office applications haven’t really changed all that much since their inception. For example, I’m writing this document using Word 2010, and while I really like the new version (a lot, actually), in the end, it is still a word processing application that I use in much the same way that I used WordPerfect 5.1 back around 1990. It seems as though these applications help us perform the same kinds of tasks more efficiently—rather than change the tasks that we need to perform. However, looking at the current and emerging versions of the Office platform, I think that this is now changing in a dramatic (and much needed) way.

This larger change is the result of two major categories of smaller shifts in the Office platform itself. First, there is an increased focus around the end-to-end collaborative experiences and business workflows rather than simply on tasks such as creating a document or e-mailing a file. As products like SharePoint continue to mature alongside the more long-standing Office client products, I’m confident that these kinds of experiences will only continue to deepen. Second, there seems to be a continued focus on data and more specifically on providing the capabilities to extract intelligence from that data. To group both of these thoughts together in a single philosophical statement, I would say that traditional office client applications are less about being really good stovepipe applications and more about being a rich presentation tier for a deeply interconnected network of systems in an enterprise architecture. To use the iceberg analogy, the office client applications simply flatten the tip a bit so that the iceberg is more comfortable to sit on.

To get to the next step of really transforming the manner in which business is conducted, highly domain-specific functionality must be developed below the metaphorical surface—and thus can only be meaningfully implemented by you. When you think about it, the Office platform lays a tremendous foundation for providing these sorts of meaningful capabilities—what other platform gets you halfway there out of the box with respect to meeting your users’ expectations around things like user experience? We, as developers, simply need to adjust our mission a bit: we aren’t in the application-development business as much as we are in the capability-delivery business. Seeing our role through that lens will, I believe, help to sharpen our focus on whom we build software for, what those people really need and how they can best use it. And in a majority of cases, the people that need the capabilities we develop can best leverage them when they are delivered in an integrated, frictionless manner, via the productivity tools that they are already using.

Thanks to the following Microsoft technical experts for their help with this issue: Kent Brown, Chance Coble, Steve Fox, Kit George, John Langdon, Don McGrady, Scott Morrison, Mike Morton, Boris Rivers-Moore and Stephen Toub.