The Grill: Microsoft's Chris Capossela

Microsoft's Office marketing chief talks about adding Twitter-like features to SharePoint and the company's plans to beat Google Apps.

Chris Capossela's career path is a throwback, just like Dom's, the Italian restaurant in Boston's North End that his parents ran for 45 years. Capossela has been at Microsoft Corp. ever since he graduated from college some 18 years ago, working his way up from being Bill Gates' speechwriter to head of the Microsoft Project business, to his current role running marketing for some of Microsoft's most lucrative products: Office, SharePoint and Exchange, as well as their as well as their new hosted equivalents. He recently talked to Computerworld about how his family background prepared him for Microsoft, how Microsoft plans to beat Google Apps, and how the company is adding Twitter-like features to SharePoint.

You've basically worked at only two places in your life: your family's restaurant and Microsoft. Tell me about your first job. I grew up in Boston with two older brothers in an apartment over the restaurant my parents opened when they were 22. The apartment was just for sleeping -- everyone was always downstairs. When I was a teen, I worked three to four nights a week during the school year, and six to seven nights a week during the summers.

How similar was working at a restaurant to working with Microsoft? My dad was very smart about having the boys do all of the jobs in the restaurant. It was good preparation for Microsoft, where I've had a really different set of jobs, sometimes walking in the first day and literally knowing nobody inside that part of the company. I worked as chief of staff to the European president for Microsoft for several years. Some people advised me not to take it and work my way up. But because of my upbringing, I was comfortable with nontraditional lateral moves.

After some hesitation, Microsoft is jumping headfirst into software as a service. Are you worried that your revenue will dip as enterprises switch to SaaS versions of your products? I don't think so. I think if we do a great job of innovating in areas adjacent to where we are strong and naturally grow into new areas, customers will pay us for the value we provide. Voice is a good example. If we can help you make phone calls from within Outlook, or let you IM or call a name you see in a Word document, or make that phone call cheaper, then businesses are going to pay us more than they did before.

Speaking of voice, there seems to be some customer resistance to dumping their PBX hardware for your Office Communications Server. We feel good about the number of deployments thus far. Most of them do focus on instant messaging and various types of conferencing, about 140,000 seats. For OCS's voice features, it's about 25,000 seats now. We have some customers who will move to a new building and forgo a PBX, but those are early adopters. But with Office Communications Server 2010, we'll be able to say in many instances, "You don't need the PBX."

Google seems to be doing Google Docs in part just to hurt your revenue. It is making some enterprises reassess the value they get from Office, especially if they don't do any customizations or line-of-business apps. How do you convince CIOs that there is value there? Take a people process like a performance review. They are usually written in Word, but the end result goes off in some HR system like PeopleSoft or SAP. Budgeting is another very horizontal process. Most companies feel a lot of pain around the workflow and approval processes. They would love for Office to be more seamlessly integrated into their PeopleSoft system or SAP systems.

Another good example is Accenture. They've written a lot of apps around making SharePoint the Facebook of their company. Traditional skills repositories, where people are supposed to update their skills into a line-of-business app, often struggle despite their overdesigned back end because it's not a part of anyone's daily process. With SharePoint, their consultants can articulate what they're working on in a more unstructured way.

Do your mainstream corporate customers want Twitter-like features in your products? They may not be excited about Facebook and Twitter being used by their people, but they love the notion of their engineers learning and collaborating with each other on infrastructure that works with what they have and has great compliance. So for SharePoint 2010, we are introducing the ability for user profiles to have a little bubble on top of their heads that lets people know what their status is.

What are your favorite features in the coming Office 2010? The one I use the most is the Cleanup button in Outlook 2010. When I come back after three hours of meetings, I can hit it and get rid of all the middle e-mails in a thread. In PowerPoint 2010, it is how video editing is now a first-class citizen. You can also easily share your screen inside Office with remote co-workers.

Will Office Web have every feature that's in Office 2010? Of course not. We think it's more interesting to try and give you a great productivity experience tailored for a browser or phone. In OneNote, you can take a photo on your smartphone and have it imported directly into the app. Or the Web version of PowerPoint -- it may miss some fancy animated transitions, but you can embed slide decks straight into a blog.

With Office 2007, you offered some aggressive pricing and discounts. Will you continue this with Office 2010? The biggest thing we did was make a distinction between the developed and developing countries. So we use geoblocking technology to prevent gray marketing so that we can offer a 40% lower retail price in India versus the U.S., both for English-language versions. We'll keep doing that. We also offered lots of promos: back to school, dads and grads. There's no statement here on what we'll do, but expect us to continue to do lots of promotions tailored for local countries or groups.

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