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The Winning Mix!

Steve Ballmer said during Windows Vista and Office 2007 kick off:

"Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system also provide the core platform that will enable businesses to take advantage of the benefits of Internet-based software services. These products incorporate key XML and Web services technologies that will help companies tap into online services and select the mix of on-premise and hosted applications to deliver the right balance of control, convenience, cost-effectiveness, and security while helping increase productivity. "

The keywords here are control, convenience, cost-effectiveness and security. You will notice that each of these are targeted towards a different audience, but directed against the common enemy - Web Based Office Productivity Apps *
Lets break them down:

Control: Most Chat, Online Storage, Networking etc sites are blocked in may companies, who nevertheless acknowledge that these things enhance productivity. Why the do they block them?

The answer - Control. Many companies allow some specific messengers to run within their own networks, many of them have their own online storage solutions - but the reluctance to use professional web-based solutions (which are available off the shelf, need not be maintained or developed) is primarily because of the fear of loss of control.

Control over what employees use these tools for (recreation or work?), what content they might send on them (sensitive data?) and to whom might they send it to (competitors?). M$ is trying to pitch in by providing guarantee of 'control' over all these aspects by enabling use of web-technologies through its established, desktop based (hence configurable) and hence reliable tools.

Convenience: I was using Google Spreadsheets on a slow internet connection the other day - and it sucked!! The amount of time I took to resize a column was enough for me to take a loo break :-)! Finally, I downloaded the sheet in MS Excel, edited it and re-uploaded (clearly making online collaboration impossible).
While M$ Office tools do not provide the flexibility of collaboration easily, they are convenient to use - being based out of your desktop, using features (APIs, code etc) from your Windows OS, and hence being fast enough. In fact by a limited ability to work through the internet -M$ might as well add 'collaboration' functionality to these tools. It is already doing this in a limited manner using the Sharepoint portal.

Cost-effectiveness: Can you imagine the load on the internet bandwidth if each employee in a large company is working on documents on an online tool? More so, how easy is it to host/port each of the millions of current documents on an online tool? What then turns out to be the cost-effective solution?
Clearly, an MS Word or an MS Excel with little ability to save documents offline but only sending them through the web 'when required' is a more cost effective option!

Security: The biggest of all - security! What if I am working on a critical document and the internet link goes down? I might loose a lot of data - even if the document is saved every few minutes, I might leave a very critical operation pending! More so, what if an employee shares a confidential document with a competitor for a short while and removes the share shortly? What happens to IRM principles of data Availability, Integrity and Confidentiality?

While organizations might be able to solve all problems of Control (impose strong access policies), Convenience and Cost effectiveness (High Bandwidth connectivity) - Security will remain the single biggest issues keeping corporates away from Web Based Office Apps!

In conclusion, I think Microsoft is making the correct noises to retain its most valuable customers - the corporate sector. And it has definitely got its priorities correct - it does not want to compete with new web-based companies on their turf - but wants to play to its own strengths and keep them from acquiring a critical market share. The strategy might work for at least another 10 years - but beyond that M$ might wither away if it does not reinvent itself!

*Examples of Webapps: Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Basecamp, JotSpot, Campfire, Meebo, and WebOSs


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