Nick Carr has sparked speculation that Microsoft will soon unveil its strategy for bringing its Office suite online – which to me means a way of working with Office documents on any computer which has an internet connection. If you are connected, I’d expect you to be able to collaborate with others in real time; if you are not connected, I’d expect the software to work in offline mode.
When I say “any computer”, I don’t mean to restrict that to any particular operating system (and indeed, Silverlight runs on the Mac, and Microsoft has announce it is working with Novell on a linux implementation). What good is collaboration software if some of the people you need to collaborate with can’t play?I thought I’d make some predictions about the business model.
There seem to be 2 key questions:
- does each end user pay, or does a collaboration originator pay for the right to invite a certain number of collaborators?
- what support for Mac and Linux users, and when?
Whether each individual user is required to pay, or the originator pays, will reveal much about how Microsoft regards its online offering. The latter model, that the person who originates a collaboration session pays for a certain number of people to be able to collaborate (ie whatever their platform), would show that their focus is firmly on collaboration. This is the model we would use for any plutext SAAS offering (available to people who don’t want to install plutext server internally, for free or a fee).
Here are my predictions:
- Enterprise version (ie behind the firewall). There will be a version an enterprise can install on its Sharepoint server, for those businesses which are not comfortable with their documents being hosted externally. I’m sure Microsoft can work out how to let people give access to people outside the firewall as necessary. An enterprise licensee will be able to invite people outside the enterprise without charge.
- Cloud version. I expect there will be a cloud version for SMBs. I think you will be able to use this for free, provided you have a license for the traditional Office product. You will definitely need this (2007 version) to originate collaboration around a document (ie invite other users) – unless you are prepared to pay a full price for the online offering. Maybe anyone will be able to accept a collaboration invitation (ie whether or not they are licensed to use Office), making the “who pays” question mute. To create a new document (or print it?), I expect you will need to have a licence for the traditional Office product, or pay for the SAAS offering.
- Mac and Linux support. I think Microsoft will offer Mac support sooner or later, but delay any hint of support for Linux for as long as possible. This is because Linux is much more of a threat than OSX (two reasons: (1) Linux is free, and (2) it is very easy to install it on your existing Windows PC). That said, they might have it “only on Windows” to try to keep people there – until some critical tipping point is reached. I would say that even now, the only thing stopping Microsoft from seeking revenues from Linux users are the inevitable press headlines along the lines of “Microsoft admits defeat” that would come with this. The cost of this in terms of perception would surely outweigh any incremental revenues in the short term. Mac users may be able to use it for free – provided they had an Office license they were able to associate with their online user ID.
- docx only. The documents which come out of this online service will be docx documents, not binary or RTF. This will help to make the new format ubiquitous.
I wonder whether the collaboration protocols will be published under the recent interoperability initiative? If they are, the way would be open for a rich world, in which docx4all could potentially play… I’d be pleasantly surprised if they were, and there was nothing stopping someone from making a client or server of their own. If anyone else could create a server, then why not get rid of it altogether and go peer-to-peer? Maybe, just maybe, the thinking is that it would take forever for someone other than Microsoft to create a fully featured server, so third party implementations are to be encouraged (as is presently the case for OpenXML), since Microsoft’s offering will always be the RollsRoyce implementation which attracts the most usage, with the other implementations adding value to the ecosystem.
The announcement, if/when it comes, will be fascinating! (more…)