Where Will Office, Groove and SharePoint Finally Converge?

It's "thinking out loud" Friday. A few days ago the SharePoint Team Blog announced  that the Microsoft Office developers conference would now be a track at the SharePoint 2009 conference . No more Office developer's conference; join the SharePoint folks to talk goings on about the pending Office 2010 product. Three weeks ago Microsoft announced Office Groove would become part of SharePoint, renamed SharePoint Workspace (the move makes total sense, btw.) SharePoint already has tie ins with Outlook for sharing lists, but Groove will give SharePoint users a much more feature rich list and file synchronization capability accessible beyond Outlook. And of course Office apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint already have connections into SharePoint so documents can easily be modified and saved back on SharePoint Server without having to first save them locally and then manually upload the updated doc (like you have to do with many wiki's).

Two other already well known but still interesting facts... SharePoint has the Excel Services capabilities which basically execute Excel functions as a service within the SharePoint Server, processing spreadsheet content, serving up spreadsheet data, charts and graphics, etc. Lastly, Microsoft's initial cloud offerings are all about hosted SharePoint and Exchange.

Okay, so what's up with these somewhat related but seemingly random factoids? Well, the ideation spidey sense in me (see Strength Finders  to learn about ideation and other strengths) asks, are we seeing the working elements of Microsoft Office Online in the cloud, the web-based delivery of Office apps collaborating, sharing and synchronizing documents in the cloud? Ever since seeing the Microsoft PDC 2008 demo of two Microsofties working together on one Excel document via a rich interactive web interface, sharing one document, and synchronizing individual changes to the doc as they were made, has had me wondering... okay, how and when is Microsoft going to do this? Microsoft didn't present that as some wild and crazy far off vision. It seemed pretty clear to me at the time this was likely what we'd see in Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 along with Exchange 2010, but it may not happen that quickly given all the pieces that must come together and the needed maturation of Microsoft's SharePoint and Exchange services for such a big endeavor as online Office apps. Given how Microsoft Azure and Live Framework have gradually rolled out, and that Microsoft is still very much in the early life of hosted Exchange and SharePoint, will we really see a full blown online app version in Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010? I supsect that even if Microsoft announces an online Office offering, it will follow quite a while after these 2010 products ship, as we have seen with Azure.

Will online Office really be part of Office 2010 or is that much, much farther away? Is Microsoft SharePoint the underlying platform for delivering online Office apps, or will online Office be its own complete separate suite of technologies? Clearly Office and SharePoint are converging, whether it be in Office 2010 or parts beyond. I could even see the product names merging someday. And Groove could be the synchronization bus between end-user workstations, and hosted apps delivering sync’d collaboration data between online Office users. And will Microsoft transition SharePoint web parts to compete with Google's WAVE strategy? All good questions, and all answers are just speculative at this point.

As I run through the different options in my head, I come back to the synergies between these products and I have to believe that in some form or fashion they could be combined and enhanced to become the basis for Microsoft's cloud-based apps. But I also know that Microsoft moves a lot slower and something this big would require massive coordination across multiple product lines. Fortunately the Office 2010 Technical Preview is only a month or so away so we'll get a better look at it to at least see what next year's release will look like. And I'm just as excited to take a look at the SharePoint 2010 Technical Preview too.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts about how this all might converge?

UPDATE: I added a few more thoughts to this blog point after realizing I hadn't explicitly mentioned the impending SharePoint 2010 and Exchange 2010 releases. Also, this is an interesting post speculating what SharePoint 2010 won't have in it.

The demo at PDC 2008 was so amazing that I'm almost afraid of being too hopeful about how complete the online collaboration capabilities will be in Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010. Microsoft always seems to take longer than I think they should, but then again we're talking about a very large software company, synchronizing and releasing major updates to three product lines whose online version will run on a fledgling Azure hosting platform. Given that, I guess you can't expect to have it all in one big bite. Patience is advised, even that can be difficult.

Have a great weekend. -- Mitchell 

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