Microsoft: Office Live Making Progress

"Live" game plan talking up its beta and partner plans

Now the company is starting to dole out some details on its progress . On Tuesday, Live meister Ray Ozzie will talk at a Goldman Sachs conference in Las Vegas about the ongoing projects.

Ozzie has not spoken much publicly on the effort since last summer's analyst meeting and Tech Ed Conference, so there is considerable anticipation about what he has to say. Financial analysts, expecially, will scrutinize his words given the amount of cash Microsoft is funneling into this Live, "Software-as-a-Service" effort.

In the meantime, here are some "Live" nuggets from Marja Koopmans , director of partner development for Office Live. Office Live is a set of hosted Sharepoint services that Microsoft bills as an application development platform for small business software. Windows Live is a consumer-focused set of services, viewed by many as an extension to MSN.

Koopmans is a good one to check in with, given the anxiety Microsoft's--or any vendor's--SaaS plans tend to provoke in partners. The number one question from reseller partners is where they fit into a scenario in which applications are delivered as services from a vendor's server. Microsoft faces more angst on this front than SaaS pioneer Google because of its partner-centric history.

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The Office Live's channel play got rolling last year with about four inaugural participants. That, number has grown to 100 partners—about 25 of which have applications available now, Koopmans said. The Office Live marketplace has been open for business in the U.S. since January. A partner page for the U.K. is now up.

Koopmans claims some 300,000 Office Live subscribers worldwide to date. "For us the key objective [till now] is to hear from partners. What are the requirements for working with us? What solutions do you want to build and therefore what programmatic engagements, what platform do you need?" she told CRN.

One high-priority item will be the addition of an Office Live hosted bill payment system. Partners fielding applications until then will bill their customers separately. Some partners, however may prefer to keep their billing processes separate at their discretion.

Koopsman highlighted Qdabra's professional services management offering. "It tracks projects and facilitates billing for small providers," Koopmans said.

Seattle-based Dinerware got aboard Office Live early and expects to have its restaurant point-of-sale service available this summer.

"Restaurants create lots of data. One thing [restaurant managers or owners] want to do is see that data while not in the restaurant. If they have a few locations or if they're away. They also want to move that data to other parties—maybe their bookkeeper or accountant or tax preparer," said Carl English, president of Dinerware.

"Our plan is to operate a service that will let Office Live hit our service and pull data from our sites" for consolidation and viewing by authorized people. If Dinerware did not use Office Live, it would have had to build a portal itself, something English said is not part of Dinerware's core business.

To recap, the Office Live platform comes in three tiers, including one free, ad-based offering. The gist is it gives customers inexpensive e-mail and web page creation capabilities and storage "in the cloud." Partners build their offerings atop that foundation. The highest-end Office Live premium edition costs $39.95 per customer per month.

One continuing question for Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, is how these services will interact with (or detract from) Microsoft's legacy shrink-wrap software. The company has been careful to parse the market and position its nascent services as just one of several software delivery models.

Others say Office Live services compete directly with third-party hosting providers, several of which Microsoft itself recruited to offer Sharepoint-based services.

Peter Sandiford, president of Ottawa-based Level Platforms, a provider of technology to managed service providers (MSPs) says he is not concerned about the Live duo encroaching on his business.

"This is Microsoft's response to Google and has little overlap or potential to cannibalize its existing traditional PC and server licensing. Homes and small businesses are going to continue to have PCs and servers that need to be managed by solution providers, so the net impact on solution providers or MSPs at this level is neutral," he noted.

He also foresees that an MSP or solution provider's role as trusted advisor to customers will only grow going forward. Afte rall many small business—and even homes—will continue to field both on-site and SaaS services and someone will need to mangae that balance, he said.

Others are not so sure, but even partners who worry about Microsoft encroaching on their turf say Google's looming presence requires Microsoft to make these moves.

In an interview last year upon his ascension to the chief software architect post at Microsoft, Ozzie told CRN that it is not just partners, but Microsoft itself, that has to adapt to this new service delivery model.

"Whenever there is a change in architecture or a change in how things are deployed, there is opportunity in some way shape or form and anyone in any value chain -- that's Microsoft or any partners really -- should be looking at the environment and hopefully reshaping their business based on the opportunity," Ozzie said.

Later today, he is likely to expound on that subject again.

PAULA ROONEY contributed to this report.