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Microsoft overhauls enterprise Office and SharePoint app development

Apps will be easier to write, buy, sell and govern, Microsoft says

By , Network World
August 08, 2012 09:58 AM ET

Network World - With the introduction of Office 2013 Preview, Microsoft has overhauled how business developers write Office and SharePoint applications and how users access them while at the same time giving IT administrators the ability to control which applications are available to users.

This new cloud application model embraces common Web languages for writing code and includes an online store for purchasing the applications. At the same time, IT professionals are given control over whether end users have access to the entire store or whether they can reach just those apps that have been selected and set aside in a corporate catalog, says Richard Riley, a director in Microsoft's Office division.

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This friendlier application development environment will encourage enterprise customers to do more of their own development rather than relying on apps in stores, says Jim McGregor, president of Tirias Research, because they have the resource to hire developers. "They'll develop apps that do exactly what they need them to do and what their customers need them to do," he says. Businesses could develop customer-facing apps based in the cloud that deliver a variety of services, such as enabling an insured person to file an insurance claim from a wireless laptop using a local Office app in combination with an insurance company app in the cloud, he says.

He sees Microsoft adopting Google's model of opening up app development to everybody and giving them away or selling them inexpensively. "Microsoft has learned that the software business has changed," McGregor says. "Opening up to third-party developers who offer apps from free to close-to-free is a critical part of it for consumers."

But getting existing business customers to buy into Office 2013 so they can take advantages of these new development possibilities may be a tough sell, says Paul DeGroot, principal consultant with Pica Communications. Corporations that standardized on Office 2003 and bought perpetual licenses could still be using it at no annual cost, he says. Buying Office 2013 means an investment and disruption, and he says subscribing to Office 365 means paying about a third of a perpetual license per year with no years when there is no payment. says.

He says he is aware of many Office customers who have bought perpetual licenses for Office 2010, have installed it and are happy to leave it in place. "They're not renewing it," he says, "they own it. They don't want to do another Office install for five years, and Microsoft will make no money off that."

The problem for Microsoft is that it makes more money from Office than it does from Windows, but applications are moving to the Web, DeGroot says, so it needs a Web-based revenue stream. This new cloud app model can help attract users to Office-related Web services.

In keeping with this model, the applications actually run in the cloud and render them to the particular file on a user's machine.

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