Microsoft Corp., under increasing pressure to counter Google Inc.s moves to dominate the Web services arena, last week responded by trotting out extensions to its pervasive Windows and Office products that will be delivered over the Internet rather than residing on a users PC.
Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates introduced the new software-as-a-service offerings, known as Windows Live and Office Live, but stressed that the programs do not replace the traditional Windows and Office software.
Windows Live will be a family of Internet-based services, essentially the MSN services rebranded, which will allow users to connect to that digital world as they move from one computer to another.
Gates also said that Windows Live is a new way of looking at software that will rapidly spread through the industry. But some of the companies already offering such services said this approach is already pervasive and the introduction of Windows Live is yet another example of how Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., missed the first boat and is now belatedly trying to jump into the game.
Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com Inc.s CEO, told eWEEK that Microsoft is still trying to prove its relevance in the age of the Internet. "The real innovators on the Internet—Amazon.com Inc., eBay Inc., Google and Salesforce.com—have succeeded because Microsoft let them down on innovation," Benioff said.
"They had to do something," Benioff said. "Its looking like software is an endangered species at Microsoft. We have been writing that epitaph for years now. Its called The End of Software. This news is a terrific thing for on demand."
While Benioff said he believes software as a service is clearly the way much software will be delivered in the future, he said that just saying you are providing your software that way is very different from actually building it as a service.
"Companies that have pursued a hybrid strategy, looking at on-demand as a low-calorie loss leader, have not found success in on-demand. I think Siebel [Systems Inc.] is a good example of that," Benioff said.
That hybrid strategy appears to be just what Microsoft has in mind. Windows Live, which will be free and will not replace the existing Windows offerings, will include a potential replacement for Microsofts free Hotmail service, called Windows Mail, and a Windows Live Safety Center, which shows the health of a PC. It will also have a new version of Windows Messenger, Microsofts instant messaging client.
Office Live is a set of services that is similar to what Microsoft once offered under bCentral and later with Small Business Center. Office Live will include Web design, project management and other tools, some of which will be free, while others will be offered for a fee.
Julie Hanna Farris, founder and chief strategy officer of Scalix Corp., in San Mateo, Calif., agreed with Benioffs assessment, saying the challenge for a company such as Microsoft is bridging the architectural chasm that exists between those technologies that were designed to be used in-house and those that were designed to be hosted.
"They are very different. There is a reason why Exchange and Hotmail are separate technologies, despite Microsofts efforts to get them on the same platform," Farris said. "I have a lot of questions around how exactly this will all work. Attempts to host Exchange have largely not been successful. While the last version was an improvement in this regard, it is not there yet."
Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.