Microsoft recently releasedfor the Mac, built on the materials added to Office 2010 for the PC. Two notable changes were that the old Entourage program that acted as the calendar/email/address book feature has been replaced by a more robust and truer-to-the-original Outlook, and the opportunity to record macros has been returned. Mac users might be pleased if they want Microsoft products, but the real news from Redmond is the release of the beta version of the Office 365 service, which melds the office suite with Microsoft Enterprise server technologies, allowing Mac, PC, and smartphone users access not only to their company’s Office software but to shared documents and secure collaborative communications tools. Leaving aside the threatened expectation of working on Christmas, Eid, Rosh Hashana, what might the service mean for the work place?
We have often noted the development of ‘cloud computing’ at this blog as such pioneers as Google, Cisco, Adobe, and Apple have created networks and portable devices and collaborative software to make cloud computing possible. The release of the iPad in the spring inspired us to predict the growing expectation of quick and ubiquitous access to online content and the software that can create it. Of course the desktop is still with us, and will not be going away soon, but what might Office 365 portend?
Microsoft is coming pretty late to this party, but despite Windows Vista, the corporation is the biggest player in the computing universe. So, when Microsoft is ready to move its materials to The Cloud, everyone else needs to respond (even if they are already in the cloud waiting). Office 365 will have a series of sliding scales of costs and services meant to allow small businesses and large corporations to scale their needs accordingly. It also is clearly a shot across the bow of GoogleDocs and Apple’s (in Beta as well, but released a year or so ago).
One feature the Office 365 website touts that does seem to be unique to Microsoft is, which one Microsoft programmer in the promotional video likens to “Facebook for the workplace,” where employees can “follow” their peers and exchange documents (on their “walls”? Do we smell a lawsuit?). Collaboration can be done across software operating systems and among devices, which could be a boon for the hour on the commuter train or in the security line at the airport – and/or a threat to your Sunday afternoon watching the game.
Despite the weight Microsoft can throw around in the market, though, some previewers are not convinced Office 365 will sorely threaten the other service providers. This quote (admittedly taken from MacWorld.com, where Microsoft products tend to be treated with a mixture of respect and disdain) is from Rebecca Wettemann, a Nucleus Research analyst, ‘Microsoft has work to do to deliver on the vision it has outlined for Office 365, she said. “Customers will be expecting rapid response times regardless of their Internet connection, a way to collaborate within applications, and features like version control, not just traditional Office over an Internet connection,” Wettemann said. “Reliability in the cloud is key, and Microsoft hasn’t traditionally been known for reliability on the desktop.”’
Indeed. But we are witnessing the expansion of cloud computing and a new frontier of services and businesses that will rise (and some will likely fall) within it. Expect some turbulence, but the launch could prove exciting, whatever one’s opinions are of Microsoft products. And, for what it’s worth, isn’t ‘Office 365’ a strikingly uninspiring – nay, Scroogish – sort of moniker?