Mar 12 2008

Office Online – not yet after all

Well, there were a few interesting announcements from Microsoft last week, but they didn’t include OaaS (Office as a Service), nor improved collaboration.

The three announcements:

  1. Office Live Workspace Beta is publicly available
  2. Sharepoint Online has been available to businesses with over 5000 employees; now it is available in beta to businesses with under 5000 (provided you are based in the US)
  3. Silverlight 2 Beta

Office Live Workspace doesn’t have real collaboration, yet. As ReadWriteWeb puts it:

Although Office Live Workspace allows for collaboration, it’s not real-time, online collaboration. Instead, if one user is editing a file, another will be informed the file is “checked out.” When they finish editing and save their changes the document is checked back in for other users to access.

The situation is similar in Sharepoint. As Bill Gates put it:

I have a Word document that if I open it up, you can see that I’ve been force [sic] versioning, check in/check out on my documents, so I could check out the document, make a change, and then come down and save those changes

Mr Gates explained that between these 2 products Microsoft intends to cover the whole market:

We want to scale [Sharepoint] all the way down, so that literally you don’t have to have an IT capability, and that’s where we get into what we’ve branded Live. So we’re working that one up through small customers. We want to work [Sharepoint] down and make sure there’s no gap in-between.

When Microsoft eventually gets around to offering real collaboration, there is no reason for either of those 2 products to do it differently (unless they wish to upsell people to Sharepoint).  So its more a question of which one gets real collaboration first; Sharepoint customers are probably more deserving, but Office Live Workspace customers might make good guinea pigs.

“Microsoft Office Live Workspace is being offered free of charge. .. The company expects to release the final public version of Office Live Workspace later in the year.”

That’s not to say that real collaboration will necessarily be free, though it might be.

For hosted Sharepoint (Microsoft Online Services), the licensing model:

New customers and customers without Microsoft Software Assurance can purchase Microsoft Online Services as a per-user subscription. Existing customers with Software Assurance on their Microsoft Client Access Licenses can purchase a user subscription at a discount, enabling them to maximize their existing Microsoft software investments. Customers with a subscription have rights to both Microsoft Online Services and to access on-premises server software, giving them the ability to blend Web-based services with on-premises software.

So when will the collaboration offering happen?

Venture Beat says that “with Microsoft still raking in so much money from traditional software, [full-on war with Google Apps is] still at least a couple years away”.  Mary Jo tells us Microsoft will fill in the blanks around its Live services strategy at its Professional Developers Conference in October.

Which brings me to the Silverlight 2 beta.  I’m inclined to think Microsoft will offer real collaboration as soon as they’ve got a suitable client (ie not before Silverlight 2 has been through its beta cycle).  The TextGlow docx viewer sets high expectations as to how this might perform.

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