Microsofts web services plan for next Office suite

16 May 2002 Microsoft is planning to incorporate multiple features of its .Net My Services, an initiative for delivering web services to consumers over the Internet, into the next version of its Office desktop business software, according to reports.

Details of the next version of Office – dubbed Office.Net – leaked out in April. But while web services integration was confirmed as one of the key features of the new version, the extent to which it integrated .Net My Services – formerly known as Hailstorm – was not revealed.

First touted by Microsoft in early 2001, .Net My Services is a platform that enables the company to host and store end users’ personal data so that they can be connected to online commerce and communication services. These services could be supplied by Microsoft partners such as online retailer eBay, for example.

However, Microsoft’s plans for .Net My Services has so far floundered. Voicing privacy concerns, consumers have shown little interest in offloading the management of personal details to Microsoft. Analysts suggest that there is widespread distrust of the software giant’s motives.

In the wider IT industry, deep reservations have been raised about Microsoft using its dominance of the operating system market to force its way into a broad range of online service businesses. And Microsoft senior vice president Jim Allchin at the anti-trust trial in early May 2002 admitted that .Net My Services was “in a little bit of disarray”.

Although no release date has yet been set, Microsoft is hoping the next version of Office will revive flagging interest in .Net My Services. By incorporating .Net My Services into a popular application such as Office and targeting it at corporate customers, the company could put the system within the reach of millions of Office users. Key components of .Net My Services will include the capability to link Microsoft Outlook email- and calendar-based features with web services over the Internet, such as requesting an insurance quote.

End users may not have to wait much longer. Microsoft released the latest version of Office, Office XP, in May 2001, and new versions of Microsoft’s most profitable products tend to be released within two years of the previous versions.

In a separate development, systems vendor Sun Microsystems announced a new version of its rival product, StarOffice, which will be sold from the end of May 2002.

Sun has designed the new version of Star Office to use XML file formats. This will enable users to share and customise files created in StarOffice more easily with other XML-based applications running on the platforms of other vendors, claim Sun executives.

But the threat from Sun of StarOffice is unlikely to worry Microsoft unduly. Microsoft currently enjoys a market share of more than 90% for the desktop applications suite, a figure that has not been dented by Sun making previous versions of StarOffice available as a free open source software download.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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