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Serve Office Documents Using MIME Types and J#.NET

The conversion of the native office document format to XML allows developers to create documents on the fly and serve them from a Web service.


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Starting with Office 2000, Microsoft began migrating their document structure types away from proprietary binary formats and towards XML. With OfficeXP the process was completed for Excel and greatly matured for the other applications.

This change creates an opportunity for software developers to change the paradigm of how they deliver content. To demonstrate this potential change, this article uses an example of a workflow situation at a financial services software house.

How It Is Done
Typically, when you're putting together a server-based application for the delivery of financial or business information, you work with a business analyst to determine what data is delivered by the application and what data is produced by the application. The production of new data is generally called the application of business logic.



In my experience, the tool of choice for business or financial analysts is Microsoft Excel. Excel allows analysts to easily mock up how they would like the data to appear and has a powerful formulae editor that allows them to demonstrate their desired calculations. The mock-up is typically passed on to you. You would then use a server side technology such as ASP or JSP to retrieve the data from a database, apply any business logic and present it as an HTML page. This page, would of course be only an approximation of the original mock-up due to the constraints of HTML.

Many developers note the irony that a follow-up requirement for their applications is that they provide some form of export to Excel so that end-users can further manipulate the data (with Office XP and Internet Explorer 6, a user may now right click on any page and select 'Export to Microsoft Excel' to allow for this).

It's obvious that a lot of effort is wasted in putting the business logic formulae and desired presentation into an Excel mock-up that is eventually thrown away. It's also obvious that this reworking of the original intents is an opportunity to introduce errors into the application.



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