Last month, I commented on the expanding definition of Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI-- http://www.sqlmag.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=49792&), foreshadowed a forthcoming financial-planning application, and promised to soon focus on the 2007 Office System. Remember when it was just Office? It's gone from just a desktop productivity suite to a never-ending product line that spans the client desktop, server infrastructure, and the Internet. They had to call it something different .

The 2007 Office System includes old Microsoft favorites such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, Outlook, and FrontPage, plus OneNote, InfoPath, Project, Live Meeting, Publisher, Visio, and MapPoint. Microsoft also piled on server products such as SharePoint Portal Server, Windows SharePoint Services, Business Scorecard Manager (BSM), Exchange Server, Live Communications Server, Project Server, and new additions including Forms Server and Groove Server. (If any of these products are new to you, see the 2007 Microsoft Office System preview Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/default.mspx.)

Because the system is too expansive to cover in one commentary, I'm going to look at components that extend SQL Server, especially BI. To get my facts (and the product names) straight, I talked to Alex Payne from the Office Business Applications (OBA) team. Alex is The Man when it comes to Microsoft's BI plans; he's always in the middle of everything figuring out what customers need and how Microsoft ranks.

Alex explained Microsoft's acquisition of ProClarity (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/apr06/04-03ProClarityPR.mspx). He underscored with indelible ink that ProClarity is NOT Excel's replacement as *the* Microsoft Analysis Client, but we should expect to see ProClarity's ingenuity shine through Excel in future releases. The Microsoft-ProClarity deal should wrap up in May; then, folks like Alex can reveal Microsoft's plans for integrating ProClarity into their product road map.

Excel 2007 offers exciting data-visualization improvements; and its PivotTables are more robust and flexible. You don't have to feel your way around with drag-and-drop but instead can use a placement pane to move measures and dimensions. You can even build calculations and use conditional formatting inside PivotTables. Excel 2007's new data-visualization features, such as data bars (each cell has a degree of background-fill correlating to its value) and the ability to create heat maps (rectangles of different sizes and colors based on data represented), are really catchy. Excel 2007 has a strong Analysis Services 2005 integration, displays rich metadata (i.e., member properties), and has native support for Analysis Services Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Office SharePoint Server 2007 will be a hub for BI in organizations of all sizes. Almost completely rewritten, Microsoft's portal server has truly matured and expanded, incorporating excellent BI features including Excel Services and robust reporting and KPI support. Excel Services enables enterprise deployment of Excel content through SharePoint in a pure-HTML format. SharePoint will offer support for Reporting Services administration, a new Report Center, and the ability to publish directly to the Report Center or Report libraries--similar to document libraries but "smart" to Reporting Services and Office report content. Basic dashboard functionality will be accessible with the new SharePoint KPI List feature.

Often running under the waterline in the BI arena are Visio, MapPoint, and Project. Visio's data-driven diagrams rock, and MapPoint is fully programmable for rich spatial and geographical reporting. Project is a little different from Visio and MapPoint; it represents a client and server solution for a Project Management Office (PMO), which includes notable BI functionality.

Look for 2007 Office public betas later this year and its near-end-of-year release.

Alex and I didn't have time to delve into BSM, but the OBA team is hard at work on the next release.