Online-only office software is 'hogwash', Microsoft says

Pushing its delayed Office 14, Microsoft calls pure cloud apps are ‘hogwash’, and says SharePoint will drive business use of Office.

Google Docs are nothing more than "bolding, underline and footnotes in the cloud" without any real innovation, according to Stephen Elop, the president of the Microsoft Business Division.

Elop dismissed his web rival yesterday, in a talk with web guru Tim O'Reilly at the Web 2.0 conference.

The web versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint in Office 14 will offer "so much more", Elop claimed, promising "an ad-supported entry-level free version of the Office suite" as well as subscription-based versions with extra features.

"What we're trying to do at various levels is to provide users with functionality that makes sense in the environment. So collaborative authoring you would expect to be in that free offering," said Elop.

What Microsoft will charge for will be features like "integration with SharePoint environment, with unified comms, all of which our competitors will also do." He highlighted SharePoint as a key tool and Microsoft's fastest-growing product.

Key business features also build on the lessons of Web 2.0 services like Amazon, eBay and Wikipedia, he said. "Web 2.0 as we've come to think about it is very much about social interaction amongst people. Those lessons are being brought into the enterprise, those same principles combined with your corporate email. The social graph comes with that so business connections, your address book, all that info on file shares is all being brought into an environment that is all about the social interaction within an enterprise."

That doesn't translate into free software for businesses, though. "What's happening behind the firewall is identical to what has happened beyond the firewall, large groups of people contributing to a corpus of information. In the enterprise, the difference is we can translate that into something people are prepared to pay for."

Office 14 has definitely been pushed back until 2010, he admitted. "It won't be this calendar year but people should be expecting to be working with beta code fairly shortly."

He called the shift to "free" ad-supported web apps and cloud services that charge by the compute workload - with Windows Azure - as a business model that no-one had proof would work and "the classic innovator's dilemma", but he remains confident Office 14 will be successful.

"I'm responsible for a $20 billion business and I'm saying we have to put stuff in the browser, we have to use ad-based models, subscription models, we have to be out-innovating the competition. At the end of the day, if we provide more value we'll win."

He described the idea of all software moving into the cloud as "hogwash", suggesting that the Microsoft idea of software-plus-services is already popular - although without anyone else using the term.

"How many people here have an iPhone?" he asked. "How many are using the Facebook app on the iPhone? Just as many. The device, the OS and the rich Facebook app combined with the Web-based Facebook service is a better experience."

Asked if that meant Office 14 would be available on the iPhone, he replied: "Keep watching".

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