The Battle over Office Productivity, SaaS style

One downside to working within my current group here at Microsoft is that I am limited in what I can share about what we’re building. But, thankfully, every so often there’s a flurry of competitive activity, and I can talk about things that are near and dear to me, professionally. Such as this GoogleApp thing.

Informationweek published an article yesterday outlining Google’s big announcement, and provided a good summary — moving beyond the sycophantic lovefest that Google normally receives every time they sneeze — and listed out some of the enterprise concerns that will keep most companies from migrating over from Microsoft apps.

Google is now looking to displace Microsoft as the desktop application provider of choice in corporate America by offering a range of low-cost, zero maintenance software that office workers can access through the Internet.

Nucleus analyst Wettemann cautioned, however, that a Web-based architecture may not work for companies in some highly regulated industries that require businesses to maintain tight control over their data. “It might be an issue in healthcare,” she said, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA imposes strict data protection rules on healthcare providers.

Other analysts note that Google Apps does not offer as complete a productivity environment as Microsoft Office. “The most notable gap is that there is no presentation tool,” said Jim Murphy, of AMR Research. He also says Google Apps offers “only limited contact management capabilities.”

Microsoft is responding to Google’s online push with a Web strategy of its own called Windows Live. Windows Live also features a slew of Web-based productivity tools, but Wettemann said Microsoft “has yet to make clear to the business audience what it is doing with Windows Live. Until then companies are not going to look seriously at that.”

Um, is it me, or does that last paragraph give the impression that Windows Live isn’t yet out there, not quite fully baked? Last time I checked, Windows Live has been, well, live, for quite some time.  

And while we’ve not yet had a big media push, my team (Microsoft Managed Services) provides hosted solutions for the enterprise (5,000 seats and up), including Exchange, SharePoint, and Live Communication Server. How do we sign up for that media darling treatment?

The guys over at ZDNet also provided a nice overview of their GoogleApp concerns.

While reading through the Informationweek site, I came across another great article on the burgeoning software-as-a-service (SaaS) space, with a hint of what Microsoft is thinking about:

Software as a service–will that be with or without the client code? Software architects are grappling with that question, and business technology managers must be able to answer it.

The beauty of SaaS is that it simplifies upgrades and security. The more code placed on a PC, the more to manage.

(According to) Gordon Ritter, general partner with Emergence Capital Partners, the success of software-as-a-service companies hinges on how fast they innovate and get new features out, and having code on PCs slows that pace because users often don’t keep up with the associated upgrades.

The trick for SaaS vendors may be in developing no-fuss client code–so small, secure, and unobtrusive that an IT department can ignore it.

Of course, Microsoft has yet to weigh in. Much has been said of the need for Microsoft to get off its duff in delivering software over the Web, and the company’s “Live” online services show progress. “Our business model will evolve to have much more of a services component,” CEO Steve Ballmer said last week in a presentation to financial analysts. “The more we can have an ongoing, continuous relationship with our customers, the more opportunity we have to add value.”

Ok, Steve didn’t exactly drop any deep insights into our roadmap, but the need to think about a services model has certainly been pushed down to every product and business group. In some areas, it will never make sense to offer pure web-based applications, but in other areas this new model opens up great opportunities to rethink how our technology is delivered.

If you don’t already have them bookmarked, and couple good resources on SaaS are blogs by Gianpaolo Carraro for a Microsoft perspective, and Phil Wainewright over at ZDNet for everything else. Enjoy.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.