Practical Ecommerce

Interview: Microsoft Exec on Future of Software

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.

Baris Cetinok

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.

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User November 8, 2007 Reply

    FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. This was a marketing strategy that IBM used for years during the "Big Iron" era. I am seeing this is these Microsoft comments, also. The difference? In the "old days" most all of the development tools were proprietary but now, in the "Web era" the tools—or many of them—are open. Also, there are a lot more "savvy" developers. Most mainline applications will be web-based in the next 5-10 years and Microsoft can't do anything about it! Oh, sure, they can be selling servers, but all of the high-profit/high-volume desktop apps will go away. If a desktop can run a browser that supports Javascript, then you can play!

    As far as using ANY Micosoft-based services, I can also tell you that this also has its equivalent in the "Big Iron" era. I can't count the number of times that IBM promised something, then, using FUD, convinced management that they would be at GREAT risk if they didn't wait for IBM's solution. BUT, the solution never came. In the meantime any competing products "went under" because of lack of sales.

    Now, Microsoft is talking "services." Well, Microsoft offered an ecommerce solution called "bCentral." First, it was a very poor service, with poor developement tools. But, that's not the REAL problem. The REAL problem is that they dumped the service early this year—with little or no support on any sort of conversion. We spent many months converting a good bCentral customer to another ecommerce solution, with NO help from Microsoft.

    Moral of the story:

    1. DON'T use ANY Microsoft services. They don't know how to run a service business.

    2. DON'T believe the FUD that Microsoft is tossing out.

    3. Move to web-based apps ASAP, using AJAX and any other tools that are open. Server-wise, I would be looking at PHP or, on the Microsoft side I would be staying with ASP. ASP.NET gives Microsoft too many places that they can cut you off in the future—and it's overly complex and unneccessay for most applications, but that's a story for another time.

    Larry Woods
    President, l.woods, inc.
    larry@lwoods.com

    — *Larry Woods*

  2. Legacy User November 7, 2007 Reply

    Software plus services also allows merchants to focus more on their aspects of their businesses, such as innovating and improving their products, marketing, the supply chain, etc. When you consider all the ins and outs of small business computing, it just makes more sense to allow professionals to handle it for you.

    Regards,
    Michelle Greer
    Volusion Inc.
    http://www.volusion.com

    — *Michelle Greer*

  3. Legacy User November 8, 2007 Reply

    Larry Woods you can't talk about Microsoft anything with your POOR website :). Also, how many billions of dollars you donate to the world?

    You can find that on your website you advertise products from Microsoft.

    — *sergey*

  4. Legacy User November 8, 2007 Reply

    Sergey,

    You are right on all counts. I really have so much business that I would prefer not to even have a site, but you gotta' today. I have been in the business for about 45 years so I have seen LOTS "final word" products and companies come and go. Will Microsoft be one of them? Absolutely not. But will some of their products, services and "promised products" go away. Absolutely! Microsoft offers products. Linux offers products. Etc. But just remember that they are only products and services. You do NOT have to use any products blindly out of loyalty. And, you definitely shouldn't defined any of them. From past experience I can assure you that they will not defend YOU!

    If you are happy with all of Microsofts products and their directions, then go for it! As you point out, I use their products also. But, I don't have a personal stake in the company. Again, they are just tools.

    Larry

    PS Microsoft does NOT "contribe" billions of dollars to ANYTHING. If they do, then they should be closed down immediately! They are a profit-making company. WE did the contribution by buying their products and services.

    — *Larry Woods*