We who follow SAAS suites have been waiting several months for Office Web, which Microsoft first introduced at its Professional Developers Conference in October 2008.
We've wanted to know how it will stack up against Google Apps, Zoho, Adobe and other comparable collaboration suites in the cloud.
We're still waiting because although Microsoft released Office 2010 as a technical preview today, the company won't release Office Web as a technical preview until August. So it looks like we have almost a month before we can reach any true verdicts about the Webified Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint apps.
Here's what's new today, along with a pic of the Web-based Excel.
We now know Office Web will come in three flavors. Windows Live users can use the apps free. That's 400 million potential users who could be using Office Web, which would easily dwarf the number of people using Google Apps, Zoho and Adobe SAAS (software as a service) solutions combined.
Corporate customers can procure the software two ways, and this is key. One way is for Microsoft's 90 million existing Office volume licensing customers to use the Office Web apps hosted on their own servers.
The other way is more conventional for today's SAAS deployments. Office Web is also available for customers to license as a subscription service through Microsoft Online Services, which Microsoft will host. However, as with Google, Zoho and Adobe's services, customers will still control this service through an administration console.
Last week, I spoke to Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office, who was thrilled to tell me about this potential coup for Microsoft over the competition. He declined to discuss how these offerings would be priced, but said:
"Unlike our competition, who basically issue sort of an ultimatum to customers that basically says, hey, if you want to use our service, then you have to move all of your data and all of the service into the cloud, we provide an option that says, if you want us to host it, of course we'll host it for you. But if you want more control than what you get from a hosted service and you want to run it on-premises, you can run them as part of your IT infrastructure."
Numoto's pitch is aimed at the customers out there who have been leery about ceding their application data to Google, Zoho, Salesforce.com, etc. Google seems to think that's not really an issue with customers, who it believes move to the cloud to unburden themselves from managing their own resources. Just let Google do it.
But consider the source: Google's customers are likely to loathe Microsoft or perhaps be plain tired of perpetual licenses and on-premises software models.
Google customers, some of whom have already drunk the Microsoft Kool-Aid for years, might not even consider using Microsoft, even if the company lets users host their own data.
I'd love to know from enterprises out there: Does the idea of the cloud appeal to you even if it means you host the Web-based apps on your own hardware?
Does that defeat the purpose of the cloud, or provide a nice alternative for you to leverage Web-based computing from the safety of your own servers?