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Created: October 09, 2002.
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Microsoft 'XDocs' Office Product Supports Custom-Defined XML Schemas.

Microsoft officials have announced a new 'XDocs' Office product with scheduled availablity in the middle of 2003. XDocs "looks and feels like a traditional word-processing program, but has all the sophisticated data-capture capabilities of a forms package. Built from the ground up to work with XML, 'XDocs' can gather information that has been generated from documents in which customers can define their own schema, or the structure and the type of content that each data element can contain. 'XDocs' can then integrate that information with existing databases and servers, making it easier to reuse data across the enterprise or via XML Web services." According to Microsoft XML Architect Jean Paoli, XDocs represents "an end-user product that at its core understands XML using customer-driven schema." XDocs exemplifies "the vision behind Microsoft's overall XML Web Services strategy: to make it easy to create, access, and share XML data between different systems on the network... Because XDocs understands XML at its core, customers can define their own business-specific schema using the latest XML standards... it lets organizations determine for themselves what kind of data they want to gather. Native support of XML also means XDocs can send data using these customer-defined schemas to backend systems via XML Web services. XDocs is the first tool that can gather and send, or receive and read, XML data from a Web service without having to first translate the data to the .xml file format. The benefits of this are enormous: because XML is the native file format of all information that is gathered, XDocs reduces translation errors and the need to do custom programming, thus reducing development time and costs. This level of support in XDocs also lowers the cost of developing solutions that use this data, because the data is represented and structured the way you need it from the very beginning."

From the "Microsoft 'XDocs'" product description:

"XDocs," a code name for the newest member of the Microsoft Office family, streamlines the process of gathering information by enabling teams and organizations to easily create and work with rich, dynamic forms. The information collected can be integrated with a broad range of business processes because XDocs supports any customer-defined XML schema and integrates with XML Web services. As a result, XDocs helps to connect information workers directly to organizational information and gives them the ability to act on it, which leads to greater business impact.

Share Information Across Business Processes and the Organization: XDocs enables teams and organizations to easily reuse and repurpose the information that they collect. The information can then be used across business processes and the organization: (1) Integrate information with the organization's servers and databases because XDocs supports industry-standard XML using any customer-defined schema. (2) XDocs is designed to integrate with any organization's business processes with its support for XML Web services and database interoperability.

From the Q&A document [Jean Paoli]:

What's interesting and unique about "XDocs" is the type of information it allows people to gather. "XDocs" lets companies design and edit what people in my field call "semi-structured" documents, or documents that have regions of meaning, in the same way that columns in a database have meaning. While the tool provides great design and editing capabilities for traditional forms like purchase orders and equipment requests, what's innovative is that "XDocs" squarely targets information that historically has been more difficult to capture, like business-critical data contained in sales reports, inventory updates, project memos, travel itineraries, and performance reviews.

We think of "XDocs" as a hybrid tool, because it combines the best of a traditional document editing experience, such as a word processor or e-mail program, with the rigorous data-capture capabilities of forms. With "XDocs," organizations can easily design their own document templates that contain customer-specific schema for gathering information. What this means is that the customer defines the overall structure of the information that will be gathered from the "XDocs" template, and what type of content each data element will contain. Being able to define your own schema is a critical business advantage, because no one knows what kind of information your company needs to gather better than you do.

For a long time, XML has been used mainly on servers and other things that information workers don't see. But "XDocs" gives people an interface with Microsoft Office-level quality that allows them to easily create and gather information on top of the core XML model. No one else has been able to do that until now.

A lot of features in "XDocs" are the result of a key architectural design decision to adhere to the XML paradigm of separating the data in a document from the formatting. This separation is why rigorous data capture is the essence of "XDocs." And, as I indicated earlier, one of the real innovations in "XDocs" is the fact that users can see and modify abstract data structures using a traditional word-processing environment. "XDocs" associates what we call "Editing Views" to those abstract data structures, providing users with all the familiar tools to which they've grown accustomed, like rich text formatting, table and picture support, and AutoCorrect. In addition, industry-standard XML schema validation and business logic validation in "XDocs" prevent costly data errors. And "XDocs" lets users save forms to their computers so that they can work on them at their convenience, even offline.

For forms designers, "XDocs" provides the same, integrated "What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) design environment. So you start with custom-defined schema and build a template around it. "XDocs" includes a built-in set of controls for easily laying out forms, as well as a set of 25 ready-to-use sample forms.

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