Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Well, why not Duet?

It seems to me that it was time I spoke about some of the things that I do like about Duet from SAP and Microsoft. No, it isn't a change of heart - I still think Duet has a long way to go before it delivers on what people expect it to be - but there are several things that are right about it.

For one, Duet is right in providing a solution to the friction between the workflow-enabled-business-process SAP world and the personal colloboration based Outlook world. It helps a user perform work flow transactions from within Outlook. It helps users look up data, compare it with previous history, and finally, complete the transaction from right within Outlook, and have it reflected in SAP.

Secondly, Duet does a decent job in providing the context sensitive data elements along side the automated e-mail generated, so that the user can effortlessly do the job. Further, it intuits the users context reasonably well with its integration with Outlook objects, and succeeds in providing a reasonably intuitive delivery of information.

Thirdly, the experience is seamless, and yes, it does look pretty. Prettier than SAP screens.

If Duet could connect to more data sources besides SAP, and enable users to build their own pathways inside Outlook and enable their work-flows, it would be loved by CIOs and users alike, notwithstanding its heavy middleware and upgrade costs.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The connected 'Office": The Microsoft Version

The MS Office applications are a big part of the desktop, and for years have faced the same fate as the MS desktop. The MS Office applications have been disconnected with back-end process applications and web data stores, and users use Cntrl-C and Cntrl-V to navigate across the two worlds.

Office Business Applications, aka OBAs, is a product from Microsoft to change that. OBA provides a mechanism to connect Office to back-end Line of business applications. With OBAs, information workers can connect, interact and perform business transactions with Office as a front-end. Sounds good, does'nt it?

But of course, OBAs will only run on the recent versions of Office. OBAs are built using Microsoft Visual Studio for Office, and under the hood, are deployed on Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server, and as given in the Price Management example here and SCM example here, runs on Microsoft middleware stack, on top of an enterprise application. Considering that this is a offering from Microsoft, this was expected. Does'nt Microsoft always want to have it all?

OBAs could be built in other ways and without adding all that stack from Microsoft. Extensio has built its own set of OBAs - which we call as Extender for Excel, and Extender for Outlook, on a SOA backbone. It is free of any Microsoft middleware components, and the server can even run on Linux. And yes, it is built on older Office interfaces of Microsoft and can run on Office 2000+ installations.

Things are beginning to get interesting!


Duet is not doing as well as it should be...

Someone called it the Duet sad song!

It is now out in the open. Steve Ballmer acknowledged at the keynote for Software 2007 that Duet has not done as well as it was expected to.

Not surprising. Afterall, Duet could connect only to latest versions of SAP- AND could work only with Office 2003+ versions - AND had no development framework - AND required a whole bunch of middeware from SAP and Microsoft both - AND enabled only a few limited value packs that enabled a handful of SAP transactions though Office. With all that onerous bunch of software under its hood, and the steep upgrades it needed, Duet really did deliver too little.

So, what could happen next? Would Duet be given a quiet burial - or would it be re-packaged and re-sold as a newly christened Office Business Application aka OBA, this time around only by Microsoft, and only with Microsoft stack? Something tells me that it would be the latter.

Could it be that Microsoft just used Duet as a pilot for its own OBA run? Nasty of me.