Windows and Office: The Past, Present and Future

Q&A: Chris Capossela, who manages the Microsoft Office System family of products, talks about the products, the experience and the future.

Windows Vista and Office 2007 finally saw the light of day on Jan. 30. Chris Capossela, who manages the Microsoft Office System family of products, talked to eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli about the products, the experience and the future.

The Office 2007 System brings some 34 Office suites, programs, servers, services and tools. Microsoft says this offers customers flexibility, but some argue it adds complexity, is confusing and creates greater lock-in between products. How do you respond to that?

We believe that the future of computing is going to be about software and services and when we talk about software we are talking about software running on desktops, servers and in the sky, so there are a lot of different offerings. If you look at things from the perspective of how our customers actually consume them it is easier to understand.

For example, the Office suite itself is made up of some core applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. We then have different configurations based on what we think consumers may or may not be interested in buying.

Were hoping that we have done a good job of combining the individual applications into productivity suites that are tailored for different users.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about the host of Office offerings.

With regard to lock-in, customers get to choose what they do and dont buy. If you walk into Best Buy today youll see Word and Outlook as a stand-alone upgrade SKU. You dont have to buy a particular suite to get the individual applications.

Tell me more about the plans for services along with the software, particularly in the future.

Our ultimate goal is to be the leader in providing productivity solutions to customers and we have a great business that builds around that premise today. Office Online is free to end users, but does show some advertisements based on the types of people that use the site and we make some revenue from that.

For the most part, thats the type of model that is taking off for broad Web services. But there are also some subscription opportunities with our services today. I think it will be a combination of advertising revenue that the end user pays for only through giving up some screen real estate, and some subscription revenue for very high value hosted services. That is probably the way it will play out on the Web looking forward.

There was initially a lot of concern about the costs associated with training users on the new ribbon-based user interface in Office 2007. Has that concern dissipated?

The feedback we have had on the new office user interface has been very positive. The data from our beta customers shows that it will only take a couple of hours before the average Office user doesnt want to go back to the old version of the product.

With regard to those die hard users who really know the ins and outs of the product, it will probably take them a couple of weeks to get to that same point. So were not hearing huge concerns from our customers about training costs, but this is one thing we will continue to monitor. We have also provided a lot of free training, built into the product, so that when you click on the "help" icon it connects you to the training materials on Office Online that can help you find a command that may have moved under the new interface.

So can users expect substantial changes to the ribbon in future versions of Office, or will these be more enhancements?

People have generally been very positive about the ribbon and so I would say that we focused on the rich, authoring experience and trying to make that far simpler in Word, Excel and PowerPoint and that focus was really helpful. But now, given the feedback we have already received and assuming it continues to come, we will take the lessons learned from that and most apply that to the applications we didnt apply them to in the Office family this past time around, such as OneNote and Project and Visio.

So I dont think our user interface innovation is done. It is not just about spreading it to other applications; if anything I think the work we have done in Office and the reception we have got has made us all the more excited about the users ability to advance and has opened up the potential for a whole lot of innovation rather than limiting it.

Next Page: Who will be the early adopters?