Last week, there was talk that Microsoft was considering broadening the way it makes Microsoft Office available over the Web using streaming technology.
(For the record, it wasn't Microsoft doing the talking; it was some overly enthused partners.)
On April 30, Microsoft shared a bit more about its future plans for streaming, using its SoftGrid technology. But officials wouldn't talk -- except in the most general terms -- about how and when the company is planning to expand its use of streaming technologies around Office and other Microsoft apps.
SoftGrid is Microsoft's application virtualization technology that the company makes available as part of its Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). MDOP is available only to customers who sign up for Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing plan. Microsoft released MDOP 2008 lasat year and is readying the MDOP 2008 Release (R) 2 version, which will refresh all of the components of MDOP -- SoftGrid, the diagnostics and recovery toolset, advanced group-policy management, inventory-asset service and desktop error-monitoring -- is set for fall 2008. A near-final release candidate (RC) test build of SoftGrid 4.5 is coming in June, Microsoft officials said on April 30.
The version of SoftGrid that Microsoft released last year allowed users to stream apps -- any version of Microsoft Office, plus other applications -- to any desktop inside their firewall. SoftGrid also can be used with Microsoft's Terminal Services product to run applications that might conflict on a single server.
What's coming next on the SoftGrid front, is a change in Microsoft licensing that will enable SoftGrid to be used in both offline and online scenarios both inside and outside of the corporate firewall, said Gavriella Schuster, Senior Director in the Windows Product Group. Schuster would not say when this change is coming or what form it would take. She did say that the Office team was working through the details.
Microsft partners, however, say the plans are already in place for adding new licensing options to SoftGrid that would make it more of a head-to-head competitor with Web-based applications like Google Docs.
Said one partner, who requested anonymity: "I know for certain that Softgrid is being added to SPLA (Microsoft's Server Provider Licensing Agreement) licensing...supposedly in the October/November timeframe."
If this does come to pass, Microsoft partners would be able to offer streamed Office as a hosted service via which customers could buy Office on a usage basis.
My ZDNet blogging colleage Phil Wainewright talked to other partners who said Microsoft is planning to announce the SoftGrid licensing changes in June. One partner told him that the change "will initially be for a 12-month pilot restricted to Office Standard and Office Pro Plus," with plans to extend it to other applications.
Wainewright described the new SoftGrid streaming capabilities as "Office pay-as-you-go." Actually, Microsoft has another program in pilot that offers Office on a pay-as-you-go basis, known as the Microsoft Office Prepaid Edition. Regardless of what it's called, one thing is for certain: Microsoft is experimenting with many new ways of making its applications available beyond the old-style one-license per machine way. At the same time, however, the Redmondians are holding out from releasing a Web-based version of Office.
What do you think? Would Office streaming, via which online/offline access is available, and users are charged on a per-usage basis for Office, catch on?