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Research Architecture from an IT Perspective

Office 2003

Since the Research task pane is built into Microsoft® Office 2003, it does not require any customization. From a network perspective, all communications take place over HTTP (using XML, or, more specifically, SOAP), so no special firewall configuration is required. Research services can be hosted internally or externally.

The following sections describe the architecture from the perspective of IT professionals concerned with how the Research task pane functionality fits within their existing IT infrastructure.

Research services are made available through a provider, which can host multiple services from a single URL. A provider corresponds to a single XML Web service or pair of Web services. Microsoft Office 2003 applications connect to a provider through its URL and receive from the provider a list of available services. By default, all Office 2003 clients are configured to check Microsoft's discovery service ( for new Microsoft services and for third-party services that Microsoft lists. Organizations can also create their own providers, exposing whatever services they choose, and use their discovery servers to make those services available to users.

All client/provider communications, as well as client/service communications, take place over HTTP. Therefore, as far as clients are concerned, it makes no difference whether the provider or service is located within the firewall or on the Internet (Figure 1). Research services can be configured and accessed on an intranet, through the Internet, or locally on a client computer. (Running a service on the local computer has limitations that are discussed in Building A Local Service.)

Possible client/provider locations

Figure 1. Possible client/provider locations

Every research service available on a client computer is defined by a group of registry settings. Therefore, installing or deploying a research service involves adding those registry settings on the client computer. There are several ways to accomplish this. For more information, see Deployment Overview.

The sequence of events for manual installation of a new service by a user is as follows:

  1. The user connects to a provider through a URL.
  2. The selected provider sends a list of available services to the client computer.
  3. The user chooses whether to install the provider and its services. If the user selects OK, all of the services selected by the provider are registered on the client computer. Some services may not be activated, and may not appear in the Research task pane. However, the user can turn services on and off in the Research Options dialog box to determine which services are available to search in the Research task pane.
  4. The provider registers services on the client computer by writing registry settings that point to the provider and its services. These settings (under HKEY_CURRENT_USER) register the services for the current user only. For detailed information about the registry keys created by registering a service, see "Sample Registry Settings" in Deploying Services to Office Users, Registry Settings Overview, Provider Registry Settings, and Service Registry Settings.

For smart tag integration, the service provider incorporates a separate setup process from within a search result in the Research task pane. For more information, see Adding Actions to Query Results.

Note  IT professionals can and should incorporate research service installation into their deployment strategy for the company. For more information, see Deploying Services to Office Users.

Once a service is registered, users can initiate searches against that service. During a search, the Office 2003 application sends a query packet to the service, which replies with a response packet containing search results. All communication takes place with formatted XML packets, and each segment of the communication conforms to a set of schemas. Figure 2 shows the order of the XML schema packets that pass between client and service.

When the Office 2003 application receives a response from a service with the results of the search, it displays the results in the Research task pane.

Client/service communications

Figure 2. Client/service communications

Office 2003 includes a rich offering of research services out of the box, consisting of a number of Microsoft services, as well as third-party services provided by Microsoft partners. Figure 3 shows the Research Options dialog box, which displays installed services and allows users to activate and deactivate services.

Image of installed research and references

Figure 3. Installed research services

The following services are installed by default:

  • Microsoft Services      Thesaurus, Translation, Dictionary, Encyclopedia, MSN Search, MSN Money Stock Quotes
  • Partner research services      Factiva News Search, eLibrary, Gale Company Profiles, WorldLingo Translation

The Thesaurus and Translation services, listed in the Research Options dialog box in the Reference Books section, are locally installed. This ensures that offline searches yield results for these references. All other default services are not locally installed, so offline searches do not yield results.

Note  The availability of built-in research services varies according to the edition of Microsoft Office 2003 and the product.