Many industry experts believe software will increasingly migrate to web-based applications and away from localized, licensed products. Practical eCommerce asked a Microsoft official for his views on the matter. Baris Cetinok is director of product management and marketing for Microsoft Office Live Small Business. He’s a ten-year veteran of Microsoft and hails, originally, from Istanbul, Turkey.
PEC: Salesforce.com is a pioneering web-based software solution. Now there’s Google Apps, which many believe is a web-based alternative to Microsoft Office. What’s the future of software, web-based or licensed?
CENTINOK: We take an expansive view of software as a service to include the breadth of our platform: The server and client-side software combined with services to deliver an end-to-end offering. We call this approach software plus services. This hybrid approach is a differentiating factor for Microsoft. Microsoft has unparalleled breadth of platform, across both business and consumer markets. For a given set of functionality, customers shouldn’t necessarily have to choose between a service and a packaged (or on-premise) offering. They should be able to get the benefits of both. This approach is at the core of our strategy, and we will continue to invest heavily to bring the combination of software and services to our customers.
For example, we’ve done well with the Office Live Small Business offering. We initially chose to focus on small businesses and now we have over 450,000 small businesses running on Office Live Small Business. We provide the capabilities they look for in terms of software plus services: Hosted email, hosted SharePoint for document sharing and applications to run their business, as well as a hosted website, online marketing tools, etc. And all of this works in conjunction with the Office tools they typically already own today. And with the recent announcement of Office Live Workspace, a new web-based feature of Microsoft Office that lets people access their documents online and share their work with others, you’ll see exciting things from us in that regard in the months to come.
PEC: We understand that Microsoft is developing web-based alternatives to its Office suite. Is this true? Can you please elaborate?
CENTINOK: Customers want choice, which we are delivering today. We see great potential in the ability of the web to enhance Microsoft Office. Looking at how we deliver Outlook and Exchange is a great example of the direction we are heading. Some of our customers want the security and control of on-premise hosting, while others want it hosted and we offer them that choice with Exchange. On the desktop, we have an amazing application in Outlook, but also offer Outlook Web Access. And now we also offer Outlook Mobile Access and Outlook Voice Access as well. So you have a great rich desktop experience in Outlook and the convenience of web, voice and mobile access as well. Our goal is to provide our customers the choice to use what suits their scenario the best.
PEC: What are the positives and negatives of web-based software?
CENTINOK: Very simply, some of the positives are that web-based software is easy to update, reduces the need for IT involvement, makes it easy to share and collaborate on information and is available anywhere with an Internet connection and a web browser. Some of the downsides are concerns over security/privacy, access to information when you don’t have Internet connectivity, downtime when the web hosting service needs to do maintenance on the software, as well as the fact that historically, web applications aren’t typically as full-featured as their desktop-based counterparts.
PEC: What are the positives and negatives to licensed software?
CENTINOK: If you are just considering desktop software, having a complete application gives you the complete and robust feature set and access to your data and information regardless of an Internet connection. Your data/software lives on your computer, so there are fewer concerns about security and privacy. The challenge this represents, however, is that since your information is housed on your desktop, if you don’t have your computer, you don’t have access to your information.
PEC: Other thoughts on the future of web-based and licensed software?
CENTINOK: We believe that the future of technology at work will be a combination of local software on client PCs or on-premise servers, along with services available in the “cloud.” Our approach is to give customers the choice, flexibility and power of both software plus services. Think of it as a continuum, ranging from pure software to pure services approaches. Most customers will be somewhere in the middle. Different customers will make different decisions and even customers with similar situations will make different decisions for what they want on-premise and what they want as a service from the cloud.
Vendors of point solutions can argue for one approach or the other. But either-or approaches don’t address all of the technology challenges and opportunities in today’s workplaces. In addition to providing customers more choice, software plus services balance the massive power of the web to connect people, devices and information with the interactivity and performance of software on a machine with a powerful processor.