Microsoft to embrace XML, HTML in next version of Office

Microsoft will elevate HTML to the same level as its own proprietary file format in the next version of Office, the company has said at the Fall Internet World trade show. As part of a solution to ramp-up the usefulness of corporate intranets, the ability to save a file as HTML will let users across platforms read format-rich business documents that include Excel charts and OfficeArt drawings. The art elements will be output as a static graphic for Web-viewing purposes, but Office will incorporate the Extensible Markup Language (XML) meta data into the HTML to preserve the Office-specific formatting.

Microsoft will elevate HTML to the same level as its own proprietary file format in the next version of Office, the company has said at the Fall Internet World trade show.

As part of a solution to ramp-up the usefulness of corporate intranets, the ability to save a file as HTML will let users across platforms read format-rich business documents that include Excel charts and OfficeArt drawings.

The art elements will be outputted as a static graphic for Web-viewing purposes, but Office will incorporate the Extensible Markup Language (XML) meta data into the HTML to preserve the Office-specific formatting.

The XML will enable Office users to manipulate the charts and graphics they retrieve from the intranet, as opposed to having a traditional Web document with a static embedded graphic.

One analyst said Microsoft is on target with the growing trends of HTML as a file format and XML as a way to better organise information within the software itself.

"The ability to click on 'Save as HTML' is a general trend gaining momentum in the industry," said Ron Rappaport, an analyst with Zona Research, in Redwood City, Calif.

Microsoft's move is in response to their plan to empower corporate users to publish their own Web information to an intranet. The main problem with intranets, Microsoft found through interviewing high-end corporate customers, is that users are not incorporating the intranet into their existing work habits. Many companies have a Webmaster who codes each file and puts it online, creating a bottleneck that leads to users bypassing the intranet as an effective way to communicate internally.

"We need to make publishing to the Web as easy as printing. We have to make it natural," said Matthew Price, Office group product manager. "We are betting that Web documents are going to be as pervasive as printed documents."

Price said the same functionality would also be available in Office for Mac, but wouldn't elaborate when that would be available to Mac users.

As part of Microsoft's intranet strategy, users who publish to the intranet would also use Microsoft's FrontPage Web authoring tool to ensure that their content is placed online properly and the hyperlinks are enabled and correct.

Price said FrontPage would remain a separate product and not be incorporated into the Office suite. The next version of Office is not expected to ship until after 1998.

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