Sunday, 16 May 2010

Microsoft, clouds, silver linings?

The big news of the week – even overshadowing IBM’s announcement of its latest five-year plan and market happiness at the news; even overshadowing the announcement of coalition government in the UK – was Microsoft’s launch of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010!

Now, to the untrained eye, the launch of a new version of an Office suite would seem little more than a way of boosting sales in an already saturated market sector. After all, you might say, why not use OpenOffice, it’s free. Or, why not use Google Docs, which is not only free, but doesn’t use up any hard disk space! Well, even in that slow turning supertanker that’s the Redmond HQ of Microsoft, someone thought of that and started steering the ship away from those particular metaphorical rocks.

With Ray Ozzie (once king of Notes and Domino land) somewhere on the bridge of the supertanker, Microsoft has made a big deal of sharing documents – you can’t do that with OpenOffice – and cloud computing – you can’t do that with Google Docs – hang on a minute, oh yes you can do that with Google Docs, but you can’t do it so well with Microsoft Office originated documents!!

But what’s this about cloud computing and Microsoft?!?! Yes, Microsoft now brings you Office Web Apps. And what’s more, they will be offered free to the claimed 500 million users of Hotmail and Messenger. And rather cleverly – in terms of making this legacy Office product appealing to a more youthful audience – Microsoft has integrated Web Apps into Facebook – which you’ll remember it part owns – as Facebook Docs. This allows Facebook users to create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents online. They can then share these files with their friends on Facebook, much like they would photos or videos.

On top of this, Microsoft is offering Office Live Workspace – free online document sharing (notice that word!) and storage. It says on the Web site that it stores up to 5GB online; works with Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; and you can view, edit, share documents with password-protection.

Furthering the cloud idea is Microsoft Live SkyDrive, which (although not new) allows users to upload 25GBs of any type of file and then access it from any other computer they are on. Other products are available (as they say) including Amazon S3, Google Docs, and RackSpace Cloud Files. With SkyDrive, users drag-and-drop files onto the Web page. To make SkyDrive more usable, frequent users might like to download SkyDrive Simple Viewer for WebDAV from, or SDExplorer from

To really get the best in an organization from sharing and collaboration, you also need to install the new SharePoint 2010.

One minor point, my beta copy of Office 2010 has seen the return of the File menu – well ribbon I suppose you’d call it – which disappeared in Office 2007. Other parts of the ribbon have been made more usable following customer feedback (or complaints as we’d call them!).

So, is Microsoft’s future cloudy? Will Google Docs now wither and die? Yes and no, are the answers in my opinion. Clearly, when you start looking at the nitty gritty detail, Microsoft has a way to go before it really offers cloud computing, but it’s moving in the right direction. Saying that, there are still millions of people who don’t need to share or collaborate on documents and who use only a tiny percentage of the facilities and features available in this venerable product. Certainly the Facebook Docs makes Office Web Apps seem cool and exciting for a new generation – the space that Google usually holds. I think fans of Google Docs will carry on as before. Large organizations (who haven’t got a mainframe and done proper computing!) will probably invest in SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 once the first service pack has come round and assuming the licence price is affordable. It’s certainly a good move for Microsoft.

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