Clouds hang over Microsoft Office, SharePoint 2010 launch

Clouds hang over Microsoft Office, SharePoint 2010 launch

The Redmond giant takes on the cloud with the release of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010

Microsoft has launched the newest versions of its Microsoft Office and Microsoft SharePoint software packages.

Microsoft Business Division president Stephen Elop spoke before a packed studio at the famed NBC Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, the room where "Saturday Night Live" is broadcast.

"It is a moment of fundamental change and there are a lot of reasons for this," Elop said, noting that organizations have tighter budgets and a more mobile workforce. Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 have been designed to meet these challenges, he said. "The 2010 products represent an epic release for Microsoft."

The NBC location seemed fitting and not just because the weather was cloudy outside: As mass media kingpin NBC finds itself both battling with and trying to adopt new forms of media, so too must Microsoft position its software packages as an essential part of office life while buzz steadily builds around new-fangled cloud computing.

Microsoft itself plans to offer hosted online versions of Office 2010, called Office Web Apps, later on this summer. The stand-alone software versions are available to businesses today. Elop noted that the software can be run either in-house or from the cloud and mobile versions for the Windows 6.5 and Windows 7 platforms will be available as well.

In an interview following the launch, Kurt DelBene, senior vice president of the office business productivity group of the Microsoft Business Division, further clarified Microsoft's approach to bringing Office 2010 to the cloud. The new version of SharePoint features the Web versions of the Office suite. When Office 2010 is released to consumers next month, Windows Live will run Web-based versions of the office software, as part of the company's SkyDive service.

But Microsoft does not see these cloud offerings as a replacement for the PC software. "We anticipate people will use a combination of the rich clients and the Web clients," DelBene said. The online versions will be geared toward tasks best done online, such as collaborative editing, but the PC software will be where people will continue to go to create documents, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint decks, he said.

Naturally, a bulk of the day's launch focused on new features, the kind that online offerings, such as Google Docs, can't yet match.

And these new features with Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 are more than fancy trim, Elop argued. They will also help organizations save valuable time.

Working on behalf of Microsoft, IT analyst firm Forrester estimated that a 7,000 employee knowledge-worker focused business would save US$7 million a year upgrading to Microsoft Office 2010. The savings would come from the many time-saving features the suite has, explained Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst, Forrester Research.

For instance, one new feature, co-authoring, would save this large organization $3 million alone, with its ability to allow multiple people to work on the same document at the same time.

Elop said the new software will make workers so much more productive that it would pay for itself within a year. The software would offer the equivalent of two extra work weeks of work per employee per year.

Microsoft 2010 certainly has a bevy of new features, all aimed at greater efficiency and productivity. Perhaps most notably, the Outlook e-mail client has been revamped with more powerful management capabilities, such as the ability to handle threaded conversations. It also has what is called a Social Connector, or the ability to fuse social data from LinkedIn and Facebook. PowerPoint can now be used to make presentations viewable on the Internet. The ribbon interface has been streamlined and has been applied to all applications.

The suite also includes, for the first time, Microsoft's note-taking program, OneNote.

With this package, Microsoft has clearly taken a strong look at usability. Office now has something called "Paste Preview" which, as the name states, shows the user what the document would look like with the newly pasted item. It came about because Microsoft noticed that the feature most used after paste is undo.

As a collaboration platform, SharePoint 2010 has been upgraded to provide more robust enterprise deployments. Site editing has been made easier. Data can be tagged and aggregated. A new set of community features allows users to share data as they do on Twitter and Facebook. And the software features better integration both with the company's Fast search engine as well as PerformancePoint, which is Microsoft's business intelligence software.

Elop noted that 8.6 million people have already tried the Office 2010 beta versions, which is more than three times the number of users who tried the Office 2007 beta. The company expects that Office 2010 will eventually have over 90 million business customers.

One aspect in the presentation that wasn't discussed in detail, however, was discussion of putting Office online, as a hosted service. That will happen later this year. The company plans to offer virtually all the features of the products as a cloud offering.

At least one company, namely Google, has been making the most with Microsoft's seeming tardiness in providing Microsoft Office applications as a cloud offering.

In the days leading up to Wednesday's launch, Google executives have been talking extensively with the press about its online office offering, Google Docs, as well as how Microsoft is behind Google in terms of offering office productivity functionality in the cloud.

Even if Google's online offerings do not have the richness of features of Office -- admitted Google product manager Jonathan Rochelle in an interview with IDG -- the advantage of using cloud-based software comes with its own benefits, such as faster updates, deeper integration and better collaboration.

"Docs really is a single app that acts as a series of apps, which is very different from what Office is," Rochelle said, explaining that Office is a set of applications, each with rich functionality, but not really designed to work together.

Rochelle said that Google Docs offers many of the features, such as multiperson editing, that Office 2010 provides, eliminating the need for current Office users to upgrade.

"We don't want customers to think they have to go to Office 2010, because they can use Docs for collaboration," Rochelle said.

Likewise, Google Sites can be used as a low-cost, easy-to-deploy, alternative to SharePoint, Rochelle said.

Microsoft Office still holds the lion's share of the market for office productivity suites. A July 2009 survey from IT research firm IDC found that approximately 97 percent of the respondents said that at least one version of Microsoft Office is used in their organizations. But Google is gaining ground, the same survey found that 19.5 percent of respondents were in organizations that used Google Docs in some form, up from 5.8 percent a year prior.

IDC principal analyst Melinda-Carol Ballou, who attended the event, said that these releases are significant ones, though she felt the presentations did not divulge enough detail about how developers could extend the functionality of these programs, particularly through tools such as Microsoft Project 2010 and Visual Studio 2010. "Software innovation underlies business innovation. New integration across Project portfolio and life cycle across those products and with SharePoint is key and was not discussed as part of the launch event," she said.

Joab Jackson can be reached at, or via Twitter at @joab_jackson.

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