Microsoft takes two big leaps into the cloud

The software vendor has been something of a sleeping giant on cloud computing. But with Windows Azure and Office Web, it's waking up.

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Developers, he said, have to expose applications to end users via the Web while still focusing on things such as security and scalability behind the scenes. "This externalization and rethinking the role of IT — it's something that all enterprise organizations are going to have to face," Governor said.

Pitney Bowes Management Services Inc., which handles tasks such as mailing and shipping for corporate clients, is working with Microsoft to test an Azure version of an application for digitizing paper mail.

Terry Doeberl, director of business development at the Pitney Bowes Inc. unit, said one benefit of the cloud model is that it separates applications from the operating system layer, freeing IT from having to update apps on individual PCs.

The same will apply to Office Web, which Microsoft plans to release late next year with the next version of the full Office suite.

The Office Web apps won't have all the features of their desktop siblings, said Chris Caposella, senior vice president of Microsoft's business division. And Office 2007's Ribbon user interface won't be included because it takes up too much screen space. Instead, Microsoft plans to modify the drop-down menus from earlier versions of Office.

IDC's Webster said it's impossible at this point to gauge how Office Web will do compared with Google Apps and other online suites. "But with something like 97% of the [desktop applications] market," she wrote in an e-mail, "Microsoft is certainly the very strong incumbent."

To maintain that wide of a lead, though, Microsoft will have to show that it can keep its head in the cloud.

Montalbano writes for the IDG News Service.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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