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Microsoft is readying a new tool that is designed to connect Microsoft Office applications to back-end enterprise systems.

The tool, called the “Information Bridge Framework,” or IBF, will debut at the company’s Tech Ed 2004 conference in San Diego next week, sources said.

IBF is designed to connect Web services to the Office client with no “extra hops” or intermediate servers required.

IBF is designed to build on top of the XML support that Microsoft already has built into its Office System 2003 applications, such as Word, Excel and Outlook. IBF will allow developers and information-worker users to expose “enterprise business objects” and then pull them right into their familiar Office documents. (Enterprise business objects, in this context, are entities such as “customers” and “purchase orders.”)

To read a review comparing Office 2003 and, click here.

Microsoft’s plan is to deliver IBF Version 1.0 in the fourth calendar quarter of this year. Visual Studio .Net 2003 users will be able to take advantage of IBF via an IBF Metadata Designer Plug-In, which will be part of Version 1.1, Version 1.1 also is due before the end of 2004, according to information on Microsoft’s Web site.

Microsoft recently touted the perks due in Yukon, Whidbey and Laguna, a k a the future versions of the company’s SQL Server and Visual Studio environments. Click here to read more.

In calendar 2005, Microsoft plans to deliver Version 2.0 of IBF, which will add support for SharePoint Portal Server Web parts and Visual Studio Tools for Office integration. By the time Longhorn ships (in the 2006 timeframe or later), Microsoft is planning to embed Version 3.0 right into the operating system.

According to Microsoft’s Web site, the target audience for IBF are “swivel-chair” information workers who use e-mail and documents in business processes and who need data from multiple sources to make decisions. IBF is not aimed at power users of enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management packages, or other execs who regularly employ structured business processes within a single application.

Microsoft is touting IBF’s ability to simplify solution development by requiring little or no coding, and without expertise in languages like C, C# and C++.

Among the kinds of solutions that can be more easily developed and deployed with IBF, according to Microsoft, are equity trading, customer-invoice processing, engineering change-management, customer complaint handling, and financial reporting.

To read the full Microsoft Watch story, click here.

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