If you ever wanted proof that Microsoft is still a conventional software vendor down to its bones, take a look at the release cycles it chooses for its big cloud announcements. Whereas real cloud vendors release working services in beta on the same day they announce them, Microsoft simply announces what it's going to do a year or two off in the future. Has it learnt nothing in three years of promising a new 'live era' of software?
At the time of the launch of Microsoft's cloud platform, Windows Azure, Ray Ozzie confessed that "the maturity of the things that we’ve got on them as this point in time is limited. It will be a different story a year from now. But I wouldn't want to hold it for another year. So, we’re getting in the game." There's a lot still to do. It's early stage, no one knows if it will pay, and anyway. do you trust Microsoft?
But while Azure is bad, the planned Office-on-the-Web offering, Office Web Applications, is far worse — even more so now that the truth has emerged about its internal-only 'technology preview': "It's currently being used by fewer than 1,000 Microsoft employees, as part of a test that started last month and is slated to go through February," CNet's Ina Fried revealed on Friday. "Consumers won't be able to try a test version of the products until sometime next year". Mary Jo Foley reckons the production release will come sometime in 2010.
When the product was announced at the end of October, Microsoft director of communications Janice Kapner told me that customer expectations were shifting and the company was working "to respond to customer need." It needs to work faster. These long-term lead-times do nothing to inspire confidence.
At a blogger roundtable following last month's Online Services launch of Microsoft-hosted Exchange and Sharepoint, it emerged that one large customer has asked for a 10-year contract to assure Microsoft's commitment to continuing to provide the service. "A lot of customers are concerned we're experimenting and we'll just kill this," affirmed a senior member of the Microsoft Online team. "We need to do a better job of communicating this. We see this as the future of the company."