Replacing Office and Outlook with Web Applications

The buzz is growing about Web applications one day replacing Microsoft Office, and perhaps replacing Outlook even sooner. And the Google-Sun alliance is fueling that buzz, for no other reason than people really want to see Microsoft challenged.

For an excellent overview of where we’re at with Web applications that will someday replace the need for desktop applications like Office… see In pursuit of the zero-footprint Office by ZDNet‘s Dan Farber. Here’s an excerpt:

It seems that a tipping point, or at least an new level of awareness, has been reached about the next Web frontier — a new generation of desktop productivity applications (think Microsoft Office without all the bits on your machine) with rich, interactive client interfaces and low-cost administration. They are built using technologies like AJAX, Flash and Java, with all the logic on the server and using XML and Web service bindings. Some of the features in browser-based apps–Web mail, wikis, blogging tools, hosted CRM–and Web apps like Google Earth, are good examples of the trend…

Microsoft is responding to this threat by moving more quickly toward offering software as a paid service. Dan Farber’s blog cites Microsoft Watch‘s Mary Jo Foley in Post-Reorg Microsoft Readies New Services. Here’s more detail from her article:

Microsoft is intent on turning its long-term dream of selling software as a service into reality. Last week, Microsoft made no bones about the fact that it is planning to field a full lineup of consumer and business services across all three of its newly minted divisions. In fact, Microsoft already sells a number of such services, both paid and free, ranging from Xbox Live to MSN Spaces blogging service. Microsoft officials have hinted at other potential offerings in the pipeline, including both consumer and enterprise versions of the Windows OneCare hosted security services, as well as a hosted Microsoft CRM service, akin to what sells today.

But there are even more Microsoft services in the wings that the company has yet to detail publicly. Among those closest to commercialization: A new small-business bundle of VOIP (voice over IP), instant messaging and data conferencing about which Microsoft has discussed privately with some of its partners, as well as a managed, high-availability Exchange Server offering.

Meanwhile, the press reaction to the Sun-Google alliance is that a “GoogleOffice” will emerge that would replace Office completely. Not quite true, according to the announcements — but Google will be pushing (along with Sun’s StarOffice, which is based on In Mary Jo Foley’s opinion (see ‘GoogleOffice’: A Microsoft Office Killer?), “If ‘GoogleOffice’ ever materializes, it won’t be going head-to-head with Microsoft Office. Instead, expect some new MSN services in the pipeline to emerge as Redmond’s secret weapons.” In other words, a “GoogleOffice” would target Web versions of email, calendar, and contact management applications.

As is typical of Microsoft, other companies innovate first, then Microsoft steps in. So we can expect to see a raft of “Office-killer” Web applications this year, and it will probably take Microsoft two years to move in with its own versions of Web applications. I agree with Foley’s point: “Is there a hot technology arena where Microsoft has fielded a new product first over the past few months and others are scrambling to catch up? I am coming up blank. Help me out here, readers. Point me to a place where Microsoft has Google and other competitors on the run.”

Watch this space for more about Web applications and would-be Office killers.


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