Microsoft's first set of Office Live services, due out by year-end, is aimed squarely at small businesses. But Microsoft has bigger – and smaller – plans for its software-service add-ons.
Microsoft is working on plans to create new Office Live packages that will appeal to individual consumers, as well as to work-groups within larger companies, said Rajesh Jha, corporate vice president of Office Live.
Office Live is a family of services designed to complement Microsoft Office, the same way that the growing stable of Windows Live services will extend Microsoft Windows. The first round of Office Live services will include a free Office Live Basics offering; and paid, subscription-based Office Live Collaboration and Office Live Essentials SKUs.
Jha – following a promotion in late July – now reports directly to Microsoft Business Division boss Jeff Raikes. Prior to helping form the Office Live team 19 months ago, Jha worked on the Microsoft Works, multimedia, NetDocs and InfoPath teams.
(NetDocs a Web-based suite of office applications, was Microsoft's first software-as-a-service initiative, which the company killed in the earlier part of this decade before launching it publicly.)
Microsoft launched the Office Live beta in the U.S. in February 2006. There were some rough spots. Some testers complained of less-than-smooth conversions from their existing domain providers to Microsoft. Others couldn't find some of the basic services, such as free e-mail accounts, that were built into the offerings. Jha acknowledged that Microsoft received similar feedback.
"In the first month, we saw a lot of that (conversion trouble) happening," he said.
But Microsoft has made adjustments for that and other issues in regular refreshes of the Live code, Jha said. And the final 1.0 release, for North American customers, is on track to go live before the end of calendar 2006, Jha said. In Q4 of this year, Microsoft also plans to commence more Office Live betas in Germany, France, Japan and the UK.
The team is planning an Office Live version 1.5 release, to be launched right after Office 2007, according to an internal Microsoft memo viewed by Microsoft Watch. It's not clear what kind of new features or fixes will be part of that release, and Microsoft officials are not discussing publicly any details yet.
Office 2007 is currently slated to be released to manufacturing in late 2006 and to be launched simultaneously with Windows Vista in January 2007.
Jha reiterated that current and future iterations of Office Live will be built atop many of the core Windows Live programming interfaces, the same way that Office 2007 servers rely on Windows Server as their base. Jha also said, as other Microsoft officials with other teams have hinted, to expect Office Live to take some pages out of the Xbox Live playbook.
"The core scenarios are all different, but we do share some common platform elements" across the Live teams, Jha said. For example, "Xbox Live has a great points system," he noted. Expect something similar to materialize for Windows Live and Office Live, Jha said.
"Office Live today is clearly aimed at small business," Jha said. "But we will expand to additional audiences," like workgroups, and even individuals, Jha said.
If and when Microsoft broadens Office Live's appeal to individual consumers, more mashups involving Windows Live services -- such as Windows Live Expo, for instance – could evolve, Jha acknowledged.
Jha also is actively contemplating making some kind of Office Live sandbox available to users, where mashups between Office Live and XML/Web services and/or SharePoint, could be hosted.
At the same time, Microsoft also is focused on building up its Office Live development platform story in order to attract software-development partners who could bring vertically-tailored versions of Office Live to market, Jha said.
Microsoft Business Division Corporate Vice President Chris Capossela made the initial pitch to potential Live developers at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in July.
"Today, you cannot write Office Live custom code that will let you do a mash-up," Capossela told Microsoft Watch. "Our developer story isn't as far along" as Windows Live's or even CRM Live's. But our goal is to do a full-blown developer platform.
Capossela's team also is hashing out how to coordinate its marketing and messaging between Office Online and Office Live. Office Online is an end-user portal; Office Live is a family of services. Currently, a number of Microsoft's Office applications include built-in Office Online integration. The ultimate idea is to provide a similar level of integration between Office apps and Office Live, Capossela said.
Could there be an Office Live for Dentists in the not-too-distant future? It's not beyond the realm of possibility, if the Office Live team has its way.