MIX07 - Front-Ending the Web with Microsoft Office

There’s a lot of Silverlight content floating around at MIX07, so I thought I’d check out some different stuff.

The session on integrating web-oriented content into Office was lightly attended but very interesting. There are a lot of services out there and a lot of Microsoft Office users. The idea is that a user experience can be much richer if you don’t make the user leave Office to get to the data they need - instead, integrate the data right into Office.

I like the idea. While it does mean an additional download/install for a user, as an additional offering for ways to access data, this is good stuff.

Demos were done using Visual Studio “Orcas” (an as-yet-unreleased build - so you can’t do all the things quite as easily as the demos showed, but once it’s out, it looks like extending Office is a piece of cake) and Visual Studio Tools for Office.

Some of the things shown - creating custom ribbons; integrating a hosted web browser in a task pane; creating Windows Presentation Foundation controls and displaying/using them; custom form creation and integration in Outlook (very cool - based on message content, a specific set of controls becomes active).

Two specific demos caught my eye, both in Outlook. The first was a custom form that lets you get sales contact data mailed to you and when you open the message, you can select a contact to see a map pop up and show you the geographic location of the contact. Select multiple contacts and it builds you a route and shows you directions on how to go from one contact to another. The second was plugin that worked against RSS messages such that when you’re reading a post in Outlook you can click a button to show a panel that has the original blog post displayed in a browser so you can see it in its original context.

Anyway, very cool stuff. I can see that this would be more valuable to more internal IT-style development, but also opens up some nice value-added services. What if you could get an email notifying you of an incoming bill and click a button right in Outlook to pay it?