Microsoft launched Office 365 this week, on top of entering into a handful of Android licensing agreements. But it also announced the death of its Hohm project.
The centerpiece of Microsoft's week was the launch of Office
365, the company's cloud-productivity platform.
A rebranding of the company's BPOS (Business Productivity
Online Suite), Office 365 links Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange
Online and Lync Online into a platform that costs between $2 and $27 per user
per month. In addition, Microsoft is offering an Office 365 Marketplace with
productivity apps and professional services.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took to a New York City stage
June 28 to roll out Office 365. "We believe effective collaboration is a lot
more than good group dynamics," Ballmer told the audience of media, analysts
and business owners gathered for the launch. "It's instant access to relevant
information ... and the right people taking the right action at the right time."
Ballmer went on to claim the software will give small to midsize
businesses an "edge" in competing, without the burden of complex (and
expensive) on-premises systems. Indeed, most of Microsoft's promotional
materials seem angled toward that particular audience segment, which is also a
key demographic for Google Apps.
Certainly the competition between Microsoft and Google has
intensified in recent months. Tom Rizzo, senior director of Microsoft Online
Services, insisted in a May 17 interview with eWEEK that businesses were trying
Google's business-cloud offerings before shifting back into Microsoft's camp.
Google executives took strident exception to Rizzo's assertions, arguing that
Google remained the leading choice for businesses interested in cloud-based
email and collaboration.
Despite those broadsides, early analysts seem to think
Microsoft has some distance to go before it poses a serious threat to Google's
position in cloud productivity.
"While Office 365 does put Microsoft in mortal combat with
Google," Matthew Cain, an analyst with Gartner, wrote in a June 28 email to
eWEEK, "it is not really an existential threat for Google since Microsoft is
essentially validating the model that Google pioneered with Google Apps."
Indeed, he added, Office 365 could draw added attention to
Google Apps as a viable alternative. But even then, it could be some time
before companies choose to embrace the cloud-productivity model: "The first
ingredient we need for companies to wholly embrace cloud-based personal
productivity and collaboration tools is time."
But according to another analyst, Microsoft nonetheless
needs to make its consumer case sooner rather than later.
"Microsoft is struggling to show value given that Google is
preaching -free,'" Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, wrote
in a June 27 email to eWEEK. "They need to reeducate their market quickly, but
don't see this as a marketing but a product problem, and are playing Google's
game as a result."
Microsoft's other big news of the week centered on Android.
Over the course of the week, Microsoft entered into Android
patent-licensing agreements with three smaller manufacturers: Onkyo, Velocity Micro and General Dynamics Itronix.
For several quarters, Microsoft has pursued a stark strategy
with regard to manufacturers of Android devices such as smartphones and
tablets: Pay royalties, or face a patent-infringement lawsuit. Microsoft claims
the Android platform infringes on a number of Microsoft-held patents.
"This agreement and similar agreements recently announced
evidence the momentum and success of our licensing program," Horacio Gutierrez,
corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual
property and licensing
at Microsoft, wrote in a June 30 statement concerning the Onkyo deal.
Some companies have chosen to embrace the royalty agreement
option. In April 2010, HTC announced that it had agreed to pay Microsoft in
exchange for the use of "patented technology" in its Android-powered
smartphones. In the wake of that, rumors circulated that Microsoft was actively
seeking similar arrangements with other unnamed companies.
However, other Android manufacturers have been willing to
put up a fight. Motorola has retaliated to a Microsoft patent-infringement suit
with an intellectual-property complaint of its own. And Barnes & Noble,
whose Nook e-reader uses Android, filed a countersuit against Microsoft after
the latter sued it for patent infringement.
The bookseller's counterclaim, filed April 25
the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle,
described Microsoft as repeatedly arguing that its patent portfolio would
"entirely preclude the use of Android Operating System by the Nook," and
mentions that both HTC and Amazon have entered into patent-licensing deals with
"Microsoft is misusing these patents as part of a scheme to
try to eliminate or marginalize the competition to its own Windows Phone 7
mobile device operating system posed by the open source Android operating system
and other open source operating systems," it read at one point. "Microsoft's
conduct directly harms both competition for and consumers of eReaders,
smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile electronic devices, and renders
Microsoft's patents unenforceable."
Even as Microsoft launched new platforms and pursued new
channels for revenue, there was a reminder that even the best-intentioned
products sometimes fail.
On June 30, Microsoft announced that it will discontinue its
Hohm service in May 2012. Hohm took user input about energy choices and made
recommendations about how to adjust energy use to save money. Originally
launched in July 2009, it was part of a larger green IT initiative that
included the company's Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft
Dynamics AX, which had been released that February.
"The feedback from customers and partners had remained
encouraging throughout Microsoft Hohm's beta period," read a June 30 posting on
. "However, due to the slow overall market adoption of the
service, we are instead focusing our efforts on products and solutions more
capable of supporting long-standing growth within this evolving market."
Microsoft can only hope that its big cloud initiatives
perform a little better.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter