Microsoft Office Live Workspace Beta Gets Going


The roll out comes as part of Microsoft's Web-based, "software-plus-services" strategy, its version of software-as-a-service in which applications are Web-enabled and available on demand.

Although Microsoft's Web-based productivity applications have been challenged in recent months by Google, and despite the fact that some have said Microsoft's online platform is sluggish in some instances, some Microsoft partners say that if not now, Microsoft Workspace Live will eventually become an important provider of software-as-a-service for small businesses.

Several universities, including University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington and Vanderbilt University are included in the early-adopter program using Office Live Workspace.

Kirk Gregersen, Microsoft's Office Director of Consumer and Small Business Product Management, said in a Q&A on the company's Website that demand for Web-enabled applications is strong.

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"Customers have asked for an easy way to save their documents from Office to the Web, so that they can get to their information or projects if they're away from their PC. People also get frustrated with the confusing free-for-all that can result when multiple versions of documents circulate in e-mail attachments that then have to be manually pulled together by the original author," Gregersen said.

"The service also responds to some of the top requests that we've gotten from Office customers, which require a combination of the Web and great integration with Office on the desktop to really solve," Gregersen added. "The way that Office Live Workspace extends Office on the desktop is a good example of what Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie refer to as our 'software plus services' approach." Despite any drawbacks currently, Office Live Workspace will capture small business customers' attention, said Neil Pearlstein, president of PC Professional, a Microsoft Gold Partner.

"Software-as-a-service in general, and what Microsoft is calling software-plus-services, is going to have a place in the IT world, not only in universities and government," Pearlstein said. "It will be utilized by small businesses and by any business that will have a good, solid reason to lease software licensing. I think Microsoft will have something done by 2009 at the latest. Its impact on IT will be positive, and the channel will be an important player in bringing it forward."

Pearlstein said he expects Microsoft to overcome criticisms of sluggishness in some of the applications and ultimately best Google.

"Google is a player in this industry, but Microsoft does the research and development to usually beat the competition in the long run," Pearlstein said. "Anything that is Web-based is going to be clunkier than a client-based product. But if you looked at Web-based applications from three years ago, there is no comparison with the today."