Coming up this week, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie will make one of his rare public appearances to give developers the latest word on the future of the Web and Microsoft software at the Mix '08 conference in Las Vegas.
Ozzie is heading up Microsoft's effort to embrace the Web as a platform, which started in October 2005, when Bill Gates fired off a memo to his executive staff and distinguished engineers with the following call to action:
"The next sea change is upon us. We must recognize this change as an opportunity to take our offerings to the next level, compete in a manner commensurate with our industry responsibilities, and utilize our assets and our broad reach to reshape our business for the benefit of the users of our products, our customers, our partners and ourselves."
More recently, in July 2007, Ozzie touted Microsoft's advantages versus others trying to harness the cloud for applications, namely Google:
"We are the only company with a platform DNA to viably delivery this kind of highly leveraged platform approach to services and we're certainly one of the few companies that has the financial capacity to capitalize on this sea change."
Microsoft is extremely focused on this sea change, but that doesn't mean that the company will unveil a set of Web applications that duplicate the functionality in the Microsoft Office cash cow as a way to compete with upstart Google Apps, as some have predicted.
At the Mix '07 event in April, Ozzie explained the thinking around a cloud-based Office suite:
"[Office Live] will progressively broaden...we have no specific announcements today. In my opening remarks, I laid out a design pattern and you will see it replicated through the offerings we do. You use a PC for what a PC is good for and look at the overall scenario, what is best for the PC and what in services as standalone or in conjunction with a PC or mobile device. In all of our products can use that pattern to extrapolate."
PC client software still plays a crucial role for Microsoft, and accounts for billions in revenue. As example of how Microsoft thinks about services, the company recently refreshed Office Live Workspace, which isn't a Web-based Office but a service that allows users to access, manage and share documents via a browser. Live Workspace does include a rudimentary Web-based word processor, Web Notes.
Last time I checked in with Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division, he told me that the browser-based application space is extremely important to watch, but that there hasn't been a lot of demand for Microsoft Office in the cloud. That conversation was about a year ago.
What's clear is that Microsoft is taking a measured approach to moving into cloud, cognizant that client/server Office franchise is at stake. On the enterprise software front, Microsoft has deployed a multitenant "Dynamics CRM Live" service for customers.
As CNET News.com reporter Martin LaMonica and ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley reported, Microsoft plans to debut at the Mix conference some new hosted services, frameworks, protocols, and tools, as well as a Windows Live Quick Applications update, including a Windows Live Messenger Library that will let third-party software interoperate with Microsoft's IM network. In addition, Silverlight 2 will be a major highlight at the event.
Stay tuned for Mix coverage this week. Ina Fried and I will be on the scene.