One of the announcements at PDC was about Microsoft’s foray into the web based Office space. This was met with initial excitement, and seems to be answer to the (small I suspect) group of people wondering how Microsoft can compete with Google Docs, Zoho and other online offerings.
The demo here, with Antoine Leblond and Chris Bryant is a nice indication of how it will operate. I’ve been a sceptic of the Google Docs model for a while, and my initial thought was that this was just Microsoft’s (catch-up) version. In many respects it does seem to be just that, but there are a few important points to note. The main one is the demo focuses less on the delivery mechanism (ie web) and more the collaborative features.
This surely is the direction that needs to be explored. With unstructured data being a considerable and growing problem in the enterprise these days, the ability to work collectively on a single document (spreadsheet, slide, etc) is a key solution. Its the problem that Google, Zoho, etc have been trying to solve.
Where we interact is largely irrelevant. So whilst some will be overjoyed to be able to interact in a browser, I personally will be reluctant to give up the richness of the installed desktop application. But being able to collaborate (within my familiar tool no less!) – that’s a key benefit.
The big advantage Microsoft has of course is the 750M existing users of Office. Giving these users better collaboration, plus the option to use the web (if they must) is going to make the transition simple. It’ll be offered via Office Live, corporate licensing and other mediums.
Some will say that the sheer number of mobile phones will push the web based document model forward. I’m still a sceptic on this one too. Why? Simple. Have you actually tried working on a document on your phone? If so, then you know why it isn’t compelling.
This is no doubt a generational thing (I’m Gen X), so I fully appreciate that in time browser based mobile interaction will take over, and with the UX possibilities of Silverlight and Flex these days, I’m getting more comfortable about the transition. But let’s not pretend that web based this or mobile enabled that is the solution. Better collaboration, reduce unstructured data, and immediate feedback is the real topic.