While I was at the SAP Sapphire 2007 conference this week I ran into Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division. He was at the event to promote the extended roadmap of Duet, the collaboration between the two companies that integrates Microsoft Office and SAP business processes.
I asked Raikes about the likelihood of a browser-based Microsoft Office, given the move to cloud-based computing and all the noise around Google Docs and Spreadsheets and the forthcoming presentation component, as well as upstarts like Zoho, ThinkFree and Zimbra. Microsoft has a Microsoft Office Live, but it's a set of service designed for small businesses, not a browser-based productivity application suite.
Raikes said the browser-based application space is extremely important to watch, but there is not a lot of demand now for Microsoft Office in the cloud. He added that cloud/browser-based applications are inadequate in many scenarios, such as for students who need footnotes in a document. "The key point is what are the scenarios, how services can extend the user experience," Raikes said, which is the standard Microsoft line and a wholly legitimate point of view. You want to be able to work seamlessly online and offline as is appropriate for the specific task and setting.
Clearly, Google's emerging Office and the other cloud-based suites aren't materially affecting Microsoft's bottom line. But, you would think that among the 500 million Microsoft Office users and the rest of the digital universe that a desire, a demand for supply, exists to have a cloud-based Microsoft Works (not even the full blown MS Office, which would choke in some aspects if it were purely cloud-based). Microsoft Outlook has 200 million users, and Outlook Web Access has 100 million users. Zoho has a plug-in for Microsoft Office that lets users work offline with Microsoft Word or Excel and save changes in their cloud-based Zoho applications.
Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft, talks about the company having a multi-headed platform strategy--software + services. OK, then where is the head with Microsoft Word and Excel Live, which integrate with the desktop Office and SharePoint?
I also talked to Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie earlier this month about talks about creating scenarios where it makes sense to have browser-based software.
In the docs and spreadsheets realm, I believe there are certain uses of spreadsheets in particular, where the sharing model [enabled by] using it up on a service could be really useful. I think that there are other scenarios where you want it on your laptop. As a company, Microsoft views this as an opportunity — to deliver the aggregate productivity value in all places.
Microsoft's MIX 07 conference, focused on the consumer Web, takes place this week in Las Vegas, and Ozzie will be giving a major keynote. Perhaps he will have more to say about Microsoft's plan for Office cloud services, but given Raikes' statement that there is no demand, don't count on it.
See also: David Berlind's Google gradually assembling Office secret weapons