Microsoft Office 2004: A Product Vision Study
What about the Internet?
You would think Microsoft ought to be about done with the Internet by now, no? They've certainly added a whole raft of Internet functionality:
It's very easy to e-mail all the document types around in an organization.
Documents can be exported to HTML files for display on a web server.
You can paste from the web into a document and its formatting is brought intact.
You can save documents to special directories that a web server can then display.
You can embed hyperlinks in documents.
What could be missing after all this?
It's the Links, Stupid!
That's right, the links. The Internet is all about navigation. It's formatting capabilities are actually very crude compared to Microsoft Office, so to bring web formatting to the Office has primarily made information interchange between Office and the web easier, but it keeps Office as a sort of airport in the sticks, rather than the hub Microsoft would like it to be. The number of documents accessible via the Internet, especially when you include corporate Intranets, has got to be increasing exponentially. Much faster than the number of non-Internet documents, or at least fast enough that Microsoft had better own this world to fulfill any visions of world domination.
Sure, you can insert a link into an Office document, but this is cumbersome, and we can imagine something better. We need to attack this on a few different levels to really make it sing. How can we empower ordinary MS Office document writers to create first-class navigation within their document world?
Easy Manual Links & The Personal Web Server
Today, its very easy to insert a hyperlink to a page that's already on the web somewhere, or to a file on your hard disk. This needs to be taken to the next level. IIS, the Microsoft Web Server, needs to be facile with taking and keeping documents. The standard file dialogs for open and save should have a button that makes it easy to point them at a web server. Microsoft needs a standard API so that third-party web servers, and hence ISP's can add this support for their web servers. These dialogs today have a column of buttons for History, My Documents, Desktop, Favorites, and My Network Places. We need to add My Web Places. There needs to be a quick and easy way to tell the system everything it needs to know to access a server. I realize we have the ability to access FTP from within this dialog already, but that's just a shade too cryptic for these users. Simplify and consumerize it. Most of these people don't know what FTP is, and shouldn't have to learn or even encounter this three letter acronym. Be sure to inherit all of this information from Front Page if it exists on the local machine.
Next step: make it easy to point to any location on the local server when creating a hyperlink.
Getting closer: check link integrity along with spell checking. If we're going to have lots of links running around, they had better not be broken. Also, make sure that as files get moved around on the local system, or renamed, we can update links and not force this maintenance to be manual.
Last step: enable the personal web server on Windows XP by default. Point it at My Documents. Create an additional in the Windows file explorer to view the file system as a web site. Create virtual pages for folders (i.e. directories) that present the contents as links. Give me a customizable template for how that looks, and include a collection of very cool looking templates to start with.
Now we're starting to cook with fire. If I want to, I can view all my documents as a big web site. It's really easy to access the site, as well as build it up. I can ship documents to other web servers too, and link them in seamlessly. Hopefully link maintenance is fairly simple. If I move a file outside MS Office, or rename the file, the system will still do the right thing. If the file disappears altogether, the next time I open the document, the broken link will be expunged. I can get a little message to let me know a document is missing should I wish to try to reconstruct the link to some other location.
Concept Encyclopedia & Auto Linking
Okay, manual links are now easy, and I can choose to view my document collection as a web site if I so desire. The next problem will be that it is a tremendous pain to really do a good job linking everywhere that ought to be linked. Creating a rich navigational topology is challenging even for expert web masters. We need some good tools to help us out with this.
Enter the Concept Encyclopedia. This is a document containing a collection of terms that we want to make sure have good link topologies. If I'm a VP of Engineering, maybe I want to link up all my references to product code names, for example. The Encyclopedia is just a document that collects up all of these terms that are to be indexed, and shows me directories of all the documents that contain references to the terms. Within Word and Excel, I get automatic link creation (unless I want it to be manual) to the relevant term in the Encyclopedia. Optionally, I can specify in the Encyclopedia, that all references to a term are to be linked to some other document, rather than to the Encyclopedia itself. The Encyclopedia needs to be template driven and highly formattable, so that users can accurately capture whatever look and feel they're after. The Encyclopedia should also become a first class navigational aid itself for tracking documents on a system.
Built into the Encyclopedia should also be a search engine that's every bit as good as Google where local documents are concerned. It has to be fast and accurate. Response should be instantaneous, and its indexes should be built in the background so they are always up to date.
Be sure to create the hooks and API's so that other applications can play along in this brave new world, as lots of others will want to, but do that in a later release.
Also, provide ways for the Encyclopedia to be populated from other sources, such as the corporate knowledge management experts, or even third parties that want to sell or give away a domain-specific lexicon. Incorporate multiple navigational metaphors. I want a standard alphabetical encyclopedia, maps (for geographic locations--type in an address fragment and you get a map link), and timelines (type a date) for starters. Be smart about using existing resources like Outlooks address book and calendar too as link destinations.
If this is all plugged together right, it will be an incredibly cool new way to view the computer's file system.
All material © 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.