Microsoft's Ozzie: Online apps mean trade-off

Microsoft's chief software architect, argues that Google's Office rival is the wrong way to go

Although Google's success in making billions from Web advertising was a "wake-up call" inside Microsoft, Ray Ozzie, the company's chief software architect, said on Tuesday that Google's approach to delivering productivity software is the wrong way to go.

Speaking to analysts at a Goldman Sachs investor conference that was Webcast, Ozzie said that Google's Docs & Spreadsheets, like other online rivals to Microsoft's Office suite, is a "trade-off."

"Ever since the [dotcom] era, technologists have been trying to see how much of the Office experience we could take up into a browser and make usable in some form," Ozzie said. "Yes, there's Google Docs & Spreadsheets, there's ThinkFree, Zoho -- there are a variety of different instances of people taking the tools and kind of replicating them up into a Web environment."

Last week, Google rolled out Google Apps Premier Edition, a US$50-per-seat-per-year package that includes Docs & Spreadsheets, 10GB of mail storage and access to development APIs.

"In the pure Web model, the trade-offs are fairly substantial. You have to be online to use them," Ozzie said. That's not the model he sees Microsoft using.

"The way that I view the services opportunity related to productivity is really about more than just taking what's on the PC and putting it up on the Web," said Ozzie. "I think there are high-level scenarios that if you consider you've got software on PCs, services in the cloud and devices, mobile devices, as the power that you can work with, and you try to envision the value of productivity, and what you're trying to offer, you end up with a different result."

Google's online application, and others in the market, have been dinged for requiring an active connection to the Internet, making it impossible to work offline.

But the always-on requirement may change for Google.

Mozilla, which has partnered with Google in the past -- Firefox, for example, offers up Google as its default search engine -- will include support for offline applications running within the browser, according to planning documents posted on the Mozilla site.

The developers of Firefox 3.0 have pegged offline app support as "P1" in the current feature spreadsheet which is, not ironically, posted on Google Docs & Spreadsheets. By Mozilla's definition, P1 means that the feature is "required as a minimum for this release to be complete...the product will not ship without these." Firefox 3.0, now dubbed "Gran Paradiso" and in alpha testing, is to launch later this year.

Although Mozilla declined to discuss details of Firefox 3.0's offline application support, in an earlier interview Tuesday in London, Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla's vice president for engineering, confirmed that offline use had been targeted in the release.

"The opportunity writ large for the industry and for Microsoft is not just to try to copy or duplicate the PC experience but to envision new sharing scenarios," said Ozzie. "I don't know that it serves our customers to jump out there and be reactionary and just try to slap some stuff out there on the Web."

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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