Office Enters the CloudMicrosoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are all heading to cyberspace. While there aren't many details about each individual application, it is clear that 95 percent of the users who use these Web-based versions of the products will be able to accomplish most of what they need in a production environment.
Excel running within a Web browser
Some say that these Web-based applications will function as an extension to their desktop counterparts, bringing the best of both worlds together. Others have said that the new online applications will eventually replace Microsoft Office entirely, and this is the first step. Perhaps both of those expectations will come true with time. Either way, the consumers will ultimately benefit. The big selling point with this move to the cloud is that users will no longer be tethered to any specific hardware device to get to their office applications -- something that would have seemed trivial for Microsoft to rectify in the past. Microsoft's Senior Vice President, Chris Capossela, stated that users will be able to access these Web-based applications through Microsoft Office Live Workspace, a service that allows the management of documents (similar to Google Docs).
Microsoft Live Workspace lets users manage various documents
There is only one catch with Microsoft's offering of a SaaS office suite according to Janice Kapner, Microsoft Senior Communications Director of the Information Worker Group: the applications will either be ad-supported or subscription-based -- this may or may not be a big deal, depending on who is asked. Interestingly, the typical issue of lackluster support for Web browsers other than Microsoft's own Internet Explorer is said to be non-existent. Microsoft intends on fully supporting Internet Explorer, Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Windows Mobile devices. It is a rare thing to see coming from Microsoft, but it just shows how things have much things have changed.
Sorry Google, It's Just BusinessSteve Ballmer's bunch is confident in not only offering an alternative to Google Docs and the like, but providing solutions that can outperform the competition. However, it still doesn't negate the fact that Microsoft has plenty of work to do. Users are not going to switch their existing workflows without justified reasoning. And there are plenty of reasons why users would be so inclined to stay with their existing office solutions -- convenience is probably one of the leading factors. Something special is going to have to come from these Web-based applications to convince consumers to make the change. Fortunately for Microsoft, the company has a powerful command when businesses and office applications are in the mix. Microsoft Office is often considered the de facto standard when it comes to this stuff. Microsoft is probably expecting that most businesses won't put up a fight against migrating their workflows to the cloud. This is an area that Google has attempted to break into, but hasn't had the experience necessary to be successful. In other words: if Microsoft's attempts are even remotely decent -- which looks to be the case so far -- enterprises are likely to fork over the dough, thus ensuring a certain level of success.
Microsoft Office Has an Unclear PathThere are a handful of web-based office providers -- Zoho, ThinkFree and Ajax13 -- that can't be too thrilled about Microsoft entering their territory. They have good reason to be worried and we should expect massive improvements to be planned for 2009 as the competition heats up. But just how worried should they be?
Word on the Web
It has been said that these Office Web applications are meant to compliment locally installed Microsoft Office products instead of fully replacing them. That makes sense considering how much money Microsoft Office generates for the company. It doesn't make sense to completely eliminate that revenue stream just yet, but it is only a matter of time before that revenue does dry up. Office Web could simply be a hedge for when that time comes or it could be the starting point of Microsoft's future direction or it could be both. Unfortunately, there isn't much more information available. If you are confused, no worries as many of the attendees expressed confusion when attempting to tie all of Microsoft's announcements together. What is certain though is that Microsoft appears serious about their move to the cloud. Moving the most popular office suite in existence into the cloud isn't a move that should be taken lightly. It surely compliments Microsoft's recent announcement about its Windows Azure cloud computing platform. It is perfect timing, and it gives users something to be excited about. Although no official release date has been specified, it isn't too far fetched to imagine a similar release date to when the next version of Microsoft Office is released, which is likely to be 2009 or 2010. We will keep everyone posted.