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Another exciting and brand-new feature of Microsoft Excel 2003 is the inclusion of smart documents. Smart documents are something that would be used in a large office environment. They also require some controls that can be written in a number of programming languages including Visual Basic, C Sharp, Visual C++ and even XML. The development of XML into this version of the Office Suite is nothing short of astounding, and it can automate many tasks. That's where smart documents come into play. It's impossible for me to show you an example because in order to utilize a smart document, an XML schema or another programming underlay has to exist behind the document. At this time there were no examples for me to work with and the development of such a schema could take months. The following example was taken from Microsoft.com and should illustrate my point. An example of smart documents could be an expense report.
When an employee fills out an expense report, the report may need to be routed for approval before the accounting department reimburses the expense. A smart document developer could create a smart document for Excel that assists the user in filling out the expense report and then tracks the approval process. The smart document is programmed to ensure that all necessary information is entered into the expense report before it displays a button that allows the user to submit the expense report for approval. The smart document can access information in an employee database that specifies who must approve the document and then the smart document can route itself to the appropriate people. After the expense report has been approved, the smart document submits itself to accounting. All of the logic is contained in the smart document and its supporting files, so that the expense report knows at any time whether it is completed, approved, or perhaps even paid. All of those wonderful features that are described in that example are all dependent on the programming done in the back end, and as I said that programming would be done by a professional.
The tools to create a back end for a smart document are available at Microsoft's msdn.com: the Microsoft Development Network. You can download an SDK, or a Software Development Kit, and begin to write your own smart document controls. Although it may take some development time, if you're working as part of a large organization, this could be an excellent tool to automate a lot of arduous tasks and to streamline a process that right now is spread out amongst dozens of different tools and services. Although I couldn't show you an example of a smart document here, it definitely warrants a further look. It's a great addition to the Office Suite for 2003 and it's a powerful tool to use within Word and Excel.
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