One of Microsoft's most dominant products is its Office suite. For over a decade Microsoft has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on office processing software. Yet today, it finds itself facing surprising new competition from new competitors, some of whom are offering free software like Google’s free online Office Suite. Google predicted that online clients were the future of office software, not Microsoft's traditional desktop installations.
Apparently, Microsoft agrees; Chris Capossela, senior VP of the company's information worker group, the group in charge of developing Office 2007's successor, Office 14, reveals in a new interview that Microsoft Office is headed online in a big way. While Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote will still be available in desktop client form, the key to the new Office suite will be Office Web Applications, lightweight web client version of each of these projects.
Users will be able to go online to edit and view their documents, as well as collaborating with others on common documents. Microsoft claims that it will maintain an edge over Google by offering no loss of fidelity between its offline and online offerings. States Mr. Capossela, "Unlike Google and Zoho, we won't crush stuff the Word user created in the first place."
Microsoft is offering up its APIs, called the REST APIs, to web developers, so that Microsoft Word and Excel may soon be incorporated into web pages. Mr. Capossela comments, "We have a big focus on developers. Part of that focus is around new APIs, part of that is around interoperability documentation, so people can make their solutions work with Office more easily than they did in the past."
Office 14's online face will be powered in part by Silverlight, Microsoft's rich Web application plug-in, a competitor to Adobe's Flash. A Silverlight browser plug-in will come with the new version of Office. However, there is also a Silverlight-free online version of the Office Suite, for users who choose not to install Silverlight.
With Office 14, Microsoft also plans to bring Office to the clouds. Microsoft's free cloud computing OS, Windows Azure will also be powering much of Office 14's power tools, such as Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. Azure already powers parts of Exchange Online, such as the identity services. The changes to Office will help many services be done purely from the cloud, saving machines from local work or storage.
For the booming smart phone market, Microsoft plans a more full-featured Office Mobile branded mobile version of Office 14. Users will not only be able to view documents, but will be able to edit and collaborate on them, all from their phone. The mobile version will also feature new SharePoint connectivity and other features. Mr. Capossela continues, "Office Web Applications become far more important given that smart phones are taking up a far larger percentage of the overall mix of phones that are shipping in the world."
Inclusion of web content, such as images, links or blurbs from sites will also be made easier and more effective. Mr. Capossela explains, "Multiuser authoring is fun and interesting, but also just being able to go out and peruse the Internet and grab video files, pictures, and snippets and automatically have them sourced when you put them in your document, those are new styles of researching and collaborating that are really important."
Microsoft is keeping tight lipped on the new version's pricing. Mr. Capossela adds, "We feel incredibly good about the price of Office. We've never had more people buying Office at retail than we've had with Office 2007."
Office 14 is set to inherit the Office legacy sometime in 2010, following the release of Windows 7 in 2009, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's latest remarks.