No shocks in Microsoft’s web strategy

Software giant Microsoft has outlined its online software delivery strategy, and the company still seems half-hearted in its dedication to the brave new world of software-as-a-service.

The company revealed details of Office Live Workspace, an online collaboration environment for small to medium size organisations to store and share Microsoft Office documents – but not edit them. A preliminary version of this service will be released later in the year.

This service typifies Microsoft’s approach to online software delivery, which it described with the epithet ‘software plus services’. Keen not to cannibalise its revenues by removing the need for packaged software, in the SMB business at least, it has so far only committed to putting ancillary services such as collaboration online, not the meat of its desktop applications.

This leaves Google, with its suite of online applications, a technological if not market share lead.

In the business applications arena, however, where Microsoft is more of an intruder than an incumbent, it has less to lose. But it nevertheless seems to be dragging its feet when it comes to delivering its Dynamics range of applications via the web. 

One significant announcement relating to business applications was that a forthcoming online version of its Dynamics CRM product will be hosted on a multi-tenant architecture.

As software-as-a-service pioneer has demonstrated, multi-tenancy – whereby all customers are served by what is essentially one single instance of the application, while still allowing them to use different versions of the app – is the key to making web applications economically viable, and upgrades manageable.  

The company also announced that its managed services offerings – such as its enterprise hosted SharePoint service – will be rebranded as Office Online services.

But there was no word on when other applications from the Dynamics family are to be made available on-demand. It would seem that the job of satisfactorily integrating the applications of the many companies it acquired to build a business applications portfolio is still ongoing.

Of course, Microsoft can afford to play for time – Office still dominates desktop market share by a wide margin – but there are new entrants to the online market every week.

Today, document management software provider Adobe announced that it is to acquire Virtual Ubiquity, which offers an online word processor service Buzzword (terms of the deal were not disclosed).

It also announced the beta program for a new online service called Share, a document-based collaboration platform similar to Microsoft’s newly announced Office Live Workspace, but in which users can edit documents.

Given IBM’s return to the office productivity software market last month, with the release of Lotus Symphony, it appears that software makers are no longer afraid of competing with Microsoft on the desktop.

Whether they can succeed or not is another question. ‘Google hasn’t done very well with Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets (the search giant’s online office applications),’ Mike Davis, of analyst group Ovum, told Information Age last month.

Davis says that Google, and others like it, have missed a trick by essentially copying Microsoft’s decades-old blueprint for office software. Instead of a separate spreadsheet, word-processor and presentation tool, the web-services technological basis of these applications should allow a single, seamless interface to all of them, says Davis. That would be better suited to the way people work, he adds, and therefore would provide some differentiation from Microsoft Office.

Until the new entrants (or in IBM’s case, re-entrant) to the desktop software market provide some functionality differentiation, Microsoft can afford to take its time introducing innovation into its delivery mechanism. But one day, that time will come.

Further reading

IA Today100,000 downloads of IBM’s Lotus Symphony in first week
Office 2.0 – cloud computing approaches the enterprise

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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