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November 22, 2006

Microsoft willing to license Office 2007 UI

Posted by David Hunter at 10:53 AM ET.

Here’s a head scratcher – Microsoft to Share Significant UI Investment in 2007 Microsoft Office Applications with Partner Community:

Later this month, Microsoft will make the 2007 Microsoft Office system broadly available to volume license customers. This new version of the world-leading productivity software solution includes popular application suites such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook. The new release marks the most significant advancements to Microsoft Office in over a decade and includes a newly redesigned user interface intended to help customers get more out of their desktop applications. The new UI represents a massive R&D investment and is a big step forward in terms of simplicity, ease of use and end-user productivity. By licensing this intellectual property, Microsoft seeks to allow partners to take advantage of its large R&D investment in order to benefit users.

To that end, Microsoft has created a royalty-free licensing program that will enable developers to build applications that have the look and feel of the new 2007 Office system applications. The new program will license elements of the new UI to software developers and component vendors on a royalty-free basis.

Aside from the fact that the Office 2007 user interface with its ubiquitous “ribbon” isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, you will have to be somewhat of a masochist to license it since Microsoft apparently had the lawyers design the licensing program:

The question that naturally arises isn’t whether there are strings attached, but rather how many. Today the answer came: As Office 2007′s “chief stylist” Jensen Harris announced on his blog, along with the perpetual, royalty-free license will be a 120+ page document detailing the precise use of Microsoft’s meticulously designed features.

For licensees to remain protected, they must abide by these guidelines, which will apparently be as extensive and strict as were the original Common User Access guidelines from IBM almost 19 years ago.

A check of MSDN’s new Office UI licensing site reveals that the guidelines have yet to be completed, though the license itself is available, and mandates that licensees must follow those guidelines. A quick read of the two-page license does not indicate that licensees must disclose any information, or are under any obligation to provide any feedback to Microsoft whatsoever. So the extent of the “little bit of information” to which Harris refers, isn’t clear.

However, the license does state that if Microsoft makes changes to its guidelines, or if the company believes a licensee is not in compliance, it will notify the licensee of the changes it needs to make to its software to remain in compliance, and give the licensee six months to produce adequate changes.

There’s more by following the link, but you get the idea.  All of this begs the question of why one would want to use the Office UI in the first place since the usual route of developers enamored of Office is to use the Visual Studio tools for creating applications for Office itself (e.g. Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office (VSTO), not to mention VBA and VSTA) and that is separate from this license. From the Q&A at the first link:

Just to be clear, Office is a great platform for developers to build into the application UI, and for this you do not need a license. We provide great tools to do this that leverage this extensibility and for many, this will be all they need. For those that want to build their own UI that takes advantage of our design guidelines, they will need a license.

Microsoft says that partners were clamoring for this licensing option, but it’s sure hard to see why. It’ll be interesting to see how many applications actually appear that are using it.

Filed under General Business, Licensing, Microsoft, Office, Office 2007, Tools, VBA, VSTA, VSTO

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