Reinventing MS Office

I’ve long been concerned at how off target the last versions of Microsoft Office were after we’ve seen the real time collaboration features of Google Docs.

As Rafe Needleman writes:

To my mind, the killer feature of Google Docs is not that it is Web-based, per se. It’s that it makes real-time collaboration easy. You can invite a user into a document you currently have open, and you both can edit the file at the same time. It’s not a feature you’re going to need all the time, but when you’re on a deadline and need to get sign-off from one or more other person on a document right away, it’s a life-saver.

In the past week Steve Balmer has started to go public with Microsoft’s Cloud computing strategy and it’s good to see they understand the issues.

I think what people want is something as rich as Microsoft Office, something that you can ‘click and run’, if you are not at your own desk. Something that is compatible, document-wise with Microsoft Office and something that offers the kind of joint editing capabilities that is nice in Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Will Microsoft Office offer that? Yes! Standby for details in the next month.

We want software that is more powerful than runs in a browser. Does that mean we will not have some neat stuff that does run in the browser? No.

We think you’ll actually want the full power of Word, Excel and PowerPoint – and you’ll want to be able to get that simply. But, if you just happen to be in an Internet cafe kiosk and you want to do some light editing, perhaps we need to have a way to support you in that as well, inside the browser.

This is great news and the best example of Software + Services. Using the power of the PC and the connectivity of the Internet together. I really believe that Collaborative Office could be one of the most exciting breakthroughs in productivity for enterprises and small businesses since online accounting.

However there are a few concerns that came immediately to mind.

  • Now I’ve moved to a Mac and that Mac:Office runs a year behind Windows Office will Mac users have to wait a whole year after this is released?  Hopefully the Mac:Office team will clarify.
  • Will Microsoft tie the collaboration features to SharePoint services – as there needs to be a mechanism for communicating changes and central document viewing? That may not be so great for small businesses.
  • Will this be a global product or, because of the reliance on hosted services, will it be rolled out by region?

If I was in Microsoft’s strategy team I’d seriously look at tying Office collaboration into their stack. For many enterprises they don’t want working documents out of their firewall so SharePoint would make sense – and be justifiable.

Looks like some of the details will be revealed at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference later in the month. But this is exciting news.

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