A Winning Campaign: Remain in Office
Since Bill Gates proclaimed Microsoft's Internet strategy in his Internet Tidal Wave memo of 1995, people have been cynical of Microsoft's embrace of the public network. Some of the cynicism has been well-founded: despite Gates' mandate that Microsoft would become an Internet company, its revenues, to this day, remain driven by Windows and Office. Microsoft can't turn its back on the desktop, nor should it. Microsoft is the desktop. Any Microsoft Internet strategy that is divorced from the desktop, which ignores the very important work done and assets created there, will always be flawed.
How can Microsoft embrace the Internet while remaining loyal to its desktop heritage? In reality, Microsoft has focused on the PC-its attempts at an Internet strategy have been half-hearted and only marginally successful. To make matters worse, Microsoft remains dependent on Office version upgrades when it has arguably run out of things to add to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Visio and even newer applications like OneNote. To some, Redmond would appear to be at a dead end.
But now, with the impending, coordinated release of Office 2010, SharePoint 2010-including the first version of the product to be designed with hosted operation in mind-and SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft is paving the road ahead. The Office Web Applications, browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, are part of the reason why. But there's more to the story.
Software Plus (Excel) Services
With the last version of Office and SharePoint, Microsoft introduced something called Excel Services, which allowed entire Excel workbooks or components within them to be viewable-while their data remained refreshable-within SharePoint and the browser. That was a good move, and Microsoft is running with it. Office and SharePoint 2010 will extend that concept so that Access and Visio can participate as well. That means up-to-date Access reports become available to everyone in the organization. And Visio diagrams, including those that are data-driven, become shareable in the same way.
Even within Excel, which already enjoyed this power, things are getting far better. That's because of Gemini, a self-service business intelligence add-in that brings the power of SQL Server Analysis Services to the desktop. Gemini can import data from conventional databases and SAP, as well as Atom feeds on the Web and even SQL Azure databases in the cloud. When Gemini is done importing data, it allows PivotTable and PivotChart analyses to be created. And those analyses can be shared with others via-you guessed it-Excel Services and SharePoint. (You can read more about Gemini in "Selling Self-Service," my December 2008 column in Redmond Developer News, at RedDevNews.com.)
When analyses are shared, so are their insights. But Gemini adds a new twist: those shared spreadsheets themselves become Analysis Services cubes, to which any client tool can connect. Suddenly the roles of data consumer and database provider are blurred, and Gemini facilitates user-generated content for business. Now add hosted SharePoint, which will likely proffer these same features to the entire Internet, and the Office Web Applications to boot, and suddenly Office is Microsoft's Internet strategy. Now data can move from the cloud to the desktop to the on-premise server, and the documents and analyses that use it can make the round-trip back up to the cloud.
If You Can't Beat Them, Lead Them
Client-server-cloud distinctions are melting away. We knew this would happen, but we never would have predicted Microsoft's role in this transition. Microsoft isn't ignoring the change, and it isn't simply welcoming it either. Instead, through Office and SharePoint, Microsoft is actually driving the transformation. No longer content to pursue desktop, enterprise and Internet markets in isolation, Microsoft is joining them and enhancing the value of each through its federation with the others.
This version of Office, using SharePoint as the substrate, brings together the concepts of collaboration, analysis, data consumption and data creation, and makes the Internet its venue. That's a value proposition that Google, Zoho and other late entrants to the office productivity market seemingly have not even thought about. Suddenly, the notion of Microsoft as an Internet company has morphed from an awkward contradiction to a natural progression.
Andrew Brust is Research Director for Big Data and Analytics at Gigaom Research. Andrew is co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press); an advisor to NYTECH, the New York Technology Council; co-moderator of Big On Data - New York's Data Intelligence Meetup; serves as Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; and is conference co-chair of Visual Studio Live!