Too early to talk about Office 2010 “missing the online boat”

In his VentureBeat column, the SlideRocket CEO Chuck Dietrich is ready to bury Office 2010 as a dinosaur incapable of extending to the online world. Given his perspective as the chief of perhaps the most credible PowerPoint competitor, it’s no surprise he attacks PowerPoint. But does he have a point?

Dietrich's message is that the Office online applications represent “an FTP server in the cloud”, allowing transferring of PPT files onto the cloud. Further, he goes on to blast that “Online documents and presentations need to be living, dynamic web content. […] By simply posting files to the cloud like 2010 plans to do, Microsoft is again missing the boat by not embracing online architecture in its entirety.”

Also, he lambastes Microsoft for offering a hard-to-use solution compared to the “just log in and start working” experience provided by the cloud: “[I]t seems business users will need SharePoint for content management, likely Groove for collaboration, and even more Microsoft applications will be required for more advanced work flows.”.

Microsoft’s strength is in the stack

“An FTP server in the cloud” isn’t exactly how I would describe the Office web offering, but by limiting your inspection to just the PowerPoint client app, you’re pretty close. It’s fair to admit that many of PowerPoint’s collaborative features require throwing in SharePoint at the server end, and some offline scenarios remarkably benefit from using SharePoint Workspace (formerly known as Groove).

But if you start comparing the whole Microsoft stack to the SlideRocket option, things look a bit different. Supported by SharePoint, the new Office client apps (including PowerPoint) provide a simultaneous editing experience across the whole gamut of Windows client, web and mobile implementations. And that’s already pretty close to the “living, dynamic web content” Dietrich was talking about, right?

It doesn’t end there, of course: You can throw in Office Communications Server integration for voice communications and presence management, the Dynamics stack for ERP/CRM integration, LiveMeeting for presenting stuff online, Outlook for easy integration to email and so on. The strength of Microsoft’s Information Worker story is not in any of the single components, it is in the whole of the stack.

And while it’s true that installing the whole stack takes far more of an investment than just giving your credit card number to SlideRocket, the background effort doesn’t really translate to user complexity. So, we end up with the basic premise: Installing an on-premises solution takes more effort than a cloud one. Is the investment worth it?

Where Office excels (a.k.a. what did Chuck leave out?)

While I have lots of respect for the SlideRocket’s solution, it’s just not a replacement for the Office stack. SlideRocket has a collaborative touch in it, offering versioning, asset libraries and whatnot. That’s great, and for the 30 million presentations that get done daily, they are important features.

  • What happens when you want to archive your presentations together with all the other documents?
  • How do you manage information retention and archiving policies across all the cloud services your company happens to be using?
  • How does the SlideRocket solution work together with all the other workflows in the organization?
  • How do you include SlideRocket-based data into your intranet search?
  • How would you implement an easy to way to pull ERP data into your presentation?

Without even going into obscurities such as Rights Management or applications of digitally signed documents, it’s clear that the Office platform benefits a lot from being a single suite with all the Office document types supported. While presentations are a key part of the IW life, they really aren’t the only one.

It ain’t easy for Redmond, either

It’s pretty lame to condemn the whole Microsoft’s future just because a small company like SlideRocket has succeeded in creating a nice presentation application that certainly beats PowerPoint in some specific scenarios. But that’s not to say Dietrich’s column would be without merit. There are real, tangible threats to Microsoft’s future, also in the information worker segment.

First and foremost, the breadth and depth of Microsoft’s offering is also a huge challenge. Finding competent staff to install and maintain the whole stack isn’t a picnic, and can potentially direct smallish companies to use more straightforward cloud-based solutions.

Here, Microsoft’s answer is the BPOS platform, allowing you to purchase most of the infrastructure at $10/user/month – a rather lucrative offer at that.

But BPOS isn’t offering a turnkey solution yet, and the partner ecosystem is just waking up. There’s plenty of work to be done before Microsoft can deliver its whole Office vision with the grace and ease provided by some of the best-of-breed cloud vendors.

Second, even though I have been testing the web applications for a while now, I’m not convinced of them just yet. I’m not condemning either – it’s too early for that. But granted, they aren’t a premium editing experience right now, and probably won’t strike the home run in Office 2010 yet.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how important the web editability scenario actually is right now – for the foreseeable lifecycle of the 2010 release, most users will have a Windows-based device anyway, so just the file sharing approach might suffice.

Third, it’s true that Microsoft’s finance model has been based on client licenses. That’s going to be hard to change, and internal politics over that will definitely be a disadvantage for Microsoft. The fact may somewhat be compensated by the massive inertia in the businesses and the few dozen billions in the bank, but rest assured, even the New Microsoft isn’t going to be as agile as some of its competitors.

But with all that said, I still think Office 2010 is a very compelling offering. Judging it is way too early – a vast majority of the world’s users are not adopting cloud-based collaboration technology in the next few years anyway. Not Office 2010 web apps nor SlideRocket. But when they do, I’ll be glad to return to these musings and see who’s right.

November 20, 2009 · Jouni Heikniemi · 4 Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Cloud, Information Worker

4 Responses

  1. Tim Acheson - November 21, 2009

    This is an excellent analysis.

    I felt obliged to respond to that blog post:

    http://venturebeat.com/2009/11/20/microsoft-misses-the-boat-on-web-applications/#comment-23654765

    However, I didn't feel such a flawed post was worthy of a reply until I saw what an angle put you put on it.

  2. Chuck Dietrich - November 23, 2009

    Jouni,
    I enjoyed reading your analysis. Very thoughtful with many good points. At the very least, it'll be an interesting next couple of years for office productivity apps.

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