TechEd 2006: Microsoft's Sharepoint team 'LoBI's' for changes to Office 2007

Boston (MA) - Microsoft's giving it a try just one more time, this time with a lot of effort, enthusiasm, and, of course, nomenclature: It's making another try at selling the idea of letting enterprises extend the functionality of their Microsoft Office installations for business purposes. Welcome to the "LoBI." Get ready to make your selection.

Chris Caren, Microsoft's general manager for Office Business Applications, demonstrated where Outlook 2007 could make use of the LoBI service to make more business-specific use of "contact" data. Certain contacts can be classified as "vendors," when Outlook is being used by a sales force.

It's not particularly anything new that a server can change the structure of a data table, which is the case here when LoBI alters the definition of a "contact." But what developers have wanted the capability to do for some time is attach functionality to that data. This way, users won't have to resort to smaller, more troublesome applications as a sacrifice to gain a few sophisticated features.

Later in Caren's demo, he showed how that same vendor functionality transforms Excel 2007. When the entry in a database cell happens to be a vendor name, Excel was instructed through the LoBI service to make available an entirely dedicated pane of functions just for vendor browsing. This gives the user the "breakdown" on a vendor in a Sharepoint-published database, without the user having to plow through a Web search engine to find that out manually.

The same vendor data published by LoBI can lead to the generation of a whole new pane for Excel 2007.

As the whole VBA debacle proved several years earlier, just because Office extensibility can be done, doesn't mean it will be. This time around, Microsoft has enlisted the aid of several partners to help it build up a repertoire of LoBI services, including most notably Accenture, GE Fanuc Automation, and Rockwell Automation. There's still a lot of work to be done in breaking down the social barriers that make that "last mile of interoperability" seem like a light year.