Microsoft’s research group has announced a set of free software tools designed to improve the interoperability of programs that scholars and academics currently use and better meet their research needs.

These free tools include add-on programs for Microsoft Word that simplify the researching, writing, and publishing of articles for scholarly journals; allow users to plot, graph, and solve functions and equations; and more. They also include a virtual workspace designed to facilitate collaboration among researchers at different institutions.

Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft External Research, announced the free tools at Microsoft Research’s ninth annual Faculty Summit on July 28.  Hey underscored the group’s commitment to providing tools that work with resources already in use by the academic community.

The new applications address all phases of the scholarly communication life cycle, he said—collecting and analyzing data; authoring, publishing, and preserving information—and are designed to help researchers share data and knowledge, ultimately making it easier for them to uncover, publish, disseminate, and preserve their research findings.

Here are the new tools freely available now:

•  An add-in that enables authors and editors to open and save Microsoft Word files in the National Library of Medicine’s NLM XML format, a file format that is used in the publishing and archiving of scientific and technical articles. Beyond its core file format capabilities, this add-in allows users to capture additional metadata at the authoring stage and preserve semantic information through the publishing process, which is essential for enabling search and semantic analysis once the articles are archived at information repositories, Microsoft said. The add-in aims to simplify the authoring, submission, and interaction process between authors and journals.

•  A Creative Commons add-in for Office 2007 that 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.

•  A Microsoft Math add-in that enhances Microsoft Word 2007 with computational and graphing capabilities. With the add-in, users can plot a function, equation, or inequality; solve an equation or inequality; calculate a numerical result; and simplify an algebraic expression. Users also can employ a linear format for entering equations into Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Math.

•  The Microsoft eJournal Service, a hosted solution that simplifies the self-publishing of online-only journals to facilitate the availability of conference proceedings and small and medium-sized journals.

•  The Research Output Repository Platform, which helps capture and leverage semantic relationships among academic objects—such as papers, lectures, presentations, and video—to provide access to these items in exciting new ways.

•  The Research Information Centre. In close partnership with the British Library, this collaborative workspace will be hosted via Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, allowing researchers to collaborate throughout the entire research process—from locating funding to searching for and collecting information, as well as managing data, papers, and other research objects.

Microsoft researchers partnered with scholars throughout the development of these tools to better learn the needs of the academic community, the company said.