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Objective observations about the world’s largest — and most controversial — software vendor

Less Is More for Office Web

I was wrong. Sort of.

As of this week, we now know that Microsoft is developing “light” Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (a collaborative digital notebook app that is having the Best Week Ever, by the way), to be made available with the Office 14 release. So, my skepticism about Web versions of the key apps in the Office suite was too long-lived, but my belief that the full versions wouldn’t be Web-ified was right.

And, really, I’m intrigued and excited by the opportunity that Microsoft has to show that it can make the less-is-more approach part of a winning strategy here: Light versions of these well-used apps, jettisoning mostly ignored features, could well be more than enough to build the “Google Docs killer” that PCWorld.com describes in this piece.

IT Business Edge’s Paul Mah asked a Microsoft executive today about how the pricing and product strategy for these online versions is shaping up. The strategy is fluid, of course. We should expect a release date in late 2009, maybe 2010. Meanwhile, competitors like Google and others will be aggressively modifying their own online desktop apps and the software-as-a-service marketplace. I just hope that by the time Office Web is available, it hasn’t ballooned beyond the kind of streamlined version currently planned.

I can also see a bigger-picture less-is-more opportunity for Microsoft as comparisons are drawn between its presence in the cloud and that of Amazon and others who got there faster, which Ann All investigated today. All says one viewpoint is that Microsoft, as a traditional software vendor trying to add a viable complementary software-as-a-service business, will have difficulty accepting the investments required to support the lower-margin offering. If Microsoft concludes, at any point along the line, that it is in fact cannibalizing its existing Office profits, that could turn out to be true.

But if the thinking is that a paying customer is better than no customer — and without that thinking, this set of products would simply not exist — then every business or consumer who wants the option to use both the client and the online version, or who wants access to Office Web and finds it easier and more comfortable than competing suites because they’re already accustomed to the interface, is a win for Microsoft. And a loss for Google or whomever. For Microsoft in the cloud, it’s a numbers game now.

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