Office 2010 Backstage: Content + Context = Collaboration

 Ted-Schadler by Ted Schadler

Microsoft announced more details on Office 2010 today. It's a healthy release from my perspective: more, simpler, better, faster, cleaner. But there's an interesting new thing that Microsoft has introduced with this release. They call it "Backstage," but it might be easier to think of it as the context of the document -- everything you need know about it and everything that you can do with it.

At the highest level, Backstage is all the stuff you do once the document has been created: save it, print it, email it, etc. It's also all of the metadata associated with the document: permissions, version history, etc. This makes it much easier for teams to collaborate on documents and for documents to be part of a workflow or business process.

It looks like this:


So why does this matter? Three reasons:

  1. The "context" of the document as visible as the contents of the document. It's as if the book just got a cover, a card catalog label, and an availability tracker. Wow. Metadata that matters to anyone who's looking for the document.

  2. Documents can carry their permissions around with them in a machine-manageable way. This is critical in a world where IT doesn't always control the devices that information workers use to access documents. For security reasons alone, it's valuable to have the permissions explicit and attached to the document itself.

  3. Backstage is extensible.That means IT shops and third-party developers can build applications that attach context to important documents. For example, a budgeting process goes through approval steps. For the first time, the document itself can carry the status on the book jacket, not at the top of the doc itself. This matters because computers can update the status easily by changing the metadata value.

Clearly, we all need to go learn a lot more about Microsoft's intentions to utilize Backstage as a core platform element of the Office 2010 system. For example, how will Backstage by harnessed by SharePoint? But in the meantime, it's something new to consider as the Office 2010 train pulls out of the station.

Thoughts, comments, concerns? Please comment.


re: Office 2010 Backstage: Content + Context = Collaboration

looks very interesting. And very user friendly. I have a concern, though. ODF 1.2 contains enables this kind of metadata information embedded in the document.Will Microsoft use ODF 1.2 for these facilities? Will it include them into OOXML? Will those features be proprietary and not ba able to survive migration from OOXML to ODF ?

re: Office 2010 Backstage: Content + Context = Collaboration

I put this question to the product management team at Microsoft and received the response below. My own take is that for firms that are working internally, what matters most is standards, not standard. In other words, as long as all users have the same tool, they can take advantage of Backstage as is.However, for multi-organizational collaboration, a standard like ODF 1.2 could very well be important. We'll keep an eye on this.Here's Microsoft's response:"ODF 1.2 is still being developed and no one at this point knows exactly what it will include in its final form or when it will be issued. As a result, Microsoft cannot at this time be concrete as to its support plans. Once ODF 1.2 is completed, however, we will evaluate it, assess the interest of our customers and partners in it, and then make a decision about support for it. We are pleased to be positive contributors to the ODF 1.2 standards development process in OASIS."We note that Office 2010 will provide support for IS29500, the Open XML version ratified by ISO last year. That standard has support for custom-defined schema. Examples of solutions that leverage the custom schema solution support in Open XML can be located, Note that Microsoft’s support for Open XML and ODF is fully documented at this location: As we near the shipment of Office 2010, MSDN will be updated with information related to the extensibility of Backstage, to help developers add custom solutions for document workflows, metadata or potentially other types of solutions. The Protocol and Interoperability Documentation for Office 2010, detailed here,, can help developers learn about various interfaces for communicating with Microsoft Office products."