Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Free Microsoft tools for scholarly communication

Microsoft Research Unveils Free Software Tools to Help Scholars and Researchers Share Knowledge, a press release from Microsoft, July 28, 2008.  Excerpt:

At the ninth annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit today...Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s External Research Division,...announced a set of free software tools aimed at allowing researchers to seamlessly publish, preserve and share data throughout the entire scholarly communication life cycle....

In the area of scholarly communication, Hey said, “Collecting and analyzing data, authoring, publishing, and preserving information are all essential components of the everyday work of researchers — with collaboration and search and discovery at the heart of the entire process. We’re supporting that scholarly communication life cycle with free software tools....”

Microsoft researchers partnered with academia throughout the development of these tools to obtain input on the application of technology to the needs of the academic community, while Microsoft product groups submitted feedback on how the company’s technology could optimally address the entire research process. The collective efforts resulted in the first wave of many tools designed to support academics across the scholarly communication life cycle.

The following tools are freely available now:

  • Add-ins. The Article Authoring Add-in for Word 2007 enables metadata to be captured at the authoring stage to preserve document structure and semantic information throughout the publishing process, which is essential for enabling search, discovery and analysis in subsequent stages of the life cycle. The Creative Commons Add-in for Office 2007 allows authors to embed Creative Commons licenses directly into an Office document (Word, Excel or PowerPoint) by linking to the Creative Commons site via a Web service.
  • The Microsoft e-Journal Service [alpha version]. This offering provides a hosted, full-service solution that facilitates easy self-publishing of online-only journals to facilitate the availability of conference proceedings and small and medium-sized journals.
  • Research Output Repository Platform [slides, forum, about]. This platform helps capture and leverage semantic relationships among academic objects — such as papers, lectures, presentations and video — to greatly facilitate access to these items in exciting new ways.
  • The Research Information Centre [forthcoming]. In close partnership with the British Library, this collaborative workspace will be hosted via Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and will allow researchers to collaborate throughout the entire research project workflow, from seeking research funding to searching and collecting information, as well as managing data, papers and other research objects throughout the research process....


  • This is for real.  Don't mistake the Microsoft research division, which doesn't sell anything, for the Microsoft product divisions.  Tony Hey believes in open access and open data, and is putting Microsoft resources behind them.  For background, see Richard Poynder's interview with Tony Hey (December 2006), and my previous post on the Microsoft repository platform (March 2008). 
  • The new tools are free of charge.  The announcement doesn't say they will ever be open source, but Microsoft encourages open-source tools in the open chemistry projects it funds.  So it's possible.
  • The authoring add-in should help publishers (including OA publishers) reduce costs, at least if they want to provide XML, and it should help them decide to use XML.  The repository platform and e-journal service are even more direct contributions to OA.  I don't know much about the e-journal service, apart from a swarm of great ideas raised at a Microsoft brainstorming meeting in November 2005.  And I don't know much about the repository platform except that it will be interoperable, play well with Microsoft tools like SQL Server Express, use semantic processing to create arbitrary relationships between resources, and serve as a back end compatible with DSpace and EPrints front ends.  I look forward to user reviews.

Update.  Also see Peter Monaghan's story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, July 31, 2008.  Excerpt:

For example, the Article Authoring Add-in for Word 2007...allows users to create documents in the widely used format developed by the National Library of Medicine's free digital archive of peer-reviewed biomedical and life-sciences journal literature, PubMed Central. But users will also be able to shape the software to suit other formats because the code for the tool is openly accessible and freely adaptable.

The products, initially aimed at scientists, also seek to make it easier for authors and editors to electronically embed into papers details about the research process and its results, such as bibliographies and key phrases. The goal, Microsoft officials said, is to help readers who conduct searches in electronic databases find relevant articles more easily.

The new tools will enable a more dynamic way of discovering and exploring links within enormous and hard-to-search bodies of research, the officials said.

"We've never before addressed what we could put around Office, Excel, SharePoint, and our other programs to make them more useful for science," said Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft's external-research division. "For example, Word was not tailored for scientific papers. But we decided to see, Can we make it more useful in that way?" ...

Such developments [OA mandates at funders and universities] have increasingly raised concerns about copyrights and fair reuse of archived materials. So to help authors, publishers, and databases embed information about copyrights and licenses in Microsoft Office documents, the company released another free product, called the Creative Commons Add-in for Office 2007.

Mr. Hey says he believes that Microsoft's business goals and academe's needs are in harmony when it comes to research and publishing. Scholarly institutions will happily pay fees, he said, to have companies like his provide products that relieve universities and their faculty members of tasks like managing large databases. After all, he said, scholars are more interested in doing actual research. Mr. Hey, who directed Britain's national e-Science Programme from 2001 to 2005, said that during recent decades he had seen "generations of research scientists sacrificed to being the computer-science techie for their group."