Microsoft's Ray Ozzie on the Web Office

Ray Ozzie's memo indicates that Microsoft is still internally questioning the approach for Office Live. Should they web-enable traditional desktop personal productivity tools like Powerpoint? [...]

One of the interesting parts of Ray Ozzie's leaked memo was his take on what he calls the "connected office":

"How would we extend or re-conceptualize Office modules to fit in this seamless model of connectedness to others, and to other applications? Should PowerPoint directly ‘broadcast to the web’, or let the audience take notes and respond? How should we increase the role of Office Online as the portal for productivity? What should we do to bring Office’s classic COM-based publish-and-subscribe capabilities to a world where RSS and XML have become the de facto publish-and-subscribe mechanisms?"

I want to compare this statement to my own recent musings on a Web-based Office. On 28 September I outlined a rather radical vision for a fully Web-based office, with the proviso that it wouldn't be happening any time soon. Here's what I wrote then:

"The time for the web-based office will come, mark my words. When broadband is ubiquitous, web functionality is richer, issues of security and reliability have been put to rest, and most importantly of all - when Corporates are ready to make the jump. It may be 5-10 years down the track, it may be longer."

Exactly a month later, 28 October, I followed up by noting that a web-based Office product won't necessarily replace the desktop version (although very long-term, it may well do). I said at that time that a web-based Office will be an extra product offering, with some hybridizing between desktop and Web.

And that's basically what was announced a few days later by Microsoft, as Office Live. Except that currently it's just a gussied up small business marketing promotion - the service itself is not expected to be released in beta form until "early 2006". When it eventually goes live, one would expect that over time it'll evolve into a fully-fledged Web-based Office suite of tools and be expanded out past the small business market.

Ray Ozzie's memo indicates that Microsoft is still internally questioning the approach for Office Live. Should they web-enable traditional desktop personal productivity tools like PowerPoint? A web-based Office will be - should be - a much more collaborative suite of tools than its desktop equivalent. It won't simply be a re-hash of the desktop products - because to take advantage of the two-way, open and collaborative nature of the Web, Microsoft product designers and engineers will need to re-think Office functionality. 

Ray Ozzie more than anyone is certainly aware of that need, so it's interesting he pegs Office Live as a "portal for productivity". In the 90's a portal was known as a central place on the Web, where users could quickly access a variety of different services and websites. I think Ozzie may be extending the meaning of 'portal' to mean the Office Live suite of web-based tools and services.

The technologies he mentioned in the memo, RSS and XML, are often used nowadays to remove the necessity of a central portal website. With RSS for example, users can publish and subscribe to different forms of data. So with PowerPoint, the Office Live version of that tool could potentially become my portal to the Web for all presentation content that I have an interest in.

From the memo, it sounds like Microsoft don't yet have the Office Live functionality sorted out. So there's still an opportunity for smaller innovators to build web-based Office applications and capture some market share before Microsoft releases Office Live next year. Maybe even get acquired.

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