Online Exchange & Sharepoint - Finally

Bill Gates is announcing Microsoft's online, hosted and web administered version of Microsoft Exchange 2007 and SharePoint 2007, dubbed Microsoft Online Services . The announcement will be made in just a few hours at the SharePoint Conference In Seattle. You can listen to the announcement beginning at 10am Pacific (750 kbps, 300 kbps, 100 kbps).

Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy has been serious void of any real answer to Google's Gmail, Google Docs and other online software applications. Microsoft finally steps up to the plate with the email, calendaring, contacts and portal features with an online, subscription based version of Exchange and SharePoint. While it's not the full web version of these apps, it's a step in that direction.

Can Microsoft Online Services compete with offerings from Google? I think so. Google apps still takes a bit of technical magic to get them integrated into a mixed world of Microsoft and Google software - not everyone has the know how to do this on their own. Windows Small Business Server is a bit much for even the smallest of businesses and an online, hosted version of Microsoft's Exchange and SharePoint products are likely to be warmly received. I'm most curious to see the adoption rate of Microsoft Online Services by medium and large businesses.

A lot of it also depends on the subscription cost structure but hopefully last week's Windows Vista price cuts foretell better pricing policies from Microsoft. We'll have to see if that's really the case.

Microsoft Exchange is just too much of a behemoth for most smaller businesses to run. Whenever one of the start up companies I've been a part of wanted to move from POP3/IMAP accounts to Microsoft Exchange, it signaled the need to have a full time IT Microsoft person on staff. Exchange requires that much attention, based on my experiences. Of course Google's apps we're really an option until recently, giving Microsoft plenty of incentive to get Exchange into market as an On Demand software service.

Now Microsoft needs to really heed the call and bring out web versions of Outlook, Word, Excel and Powerpoint. At the SharePoint conference, Gates is also announcing the SilverLight Blueprint for SharePoint. Could this be the first step towards online version of Office apps? I hope so.

More than any other move by Microsoft, the announcement of Microsoft Online Services signals the transition in strategy from embedded software to Software as a Service, SaaS. With Microsoft finally making this first move, you can bet this is only the beginning of the move to a new way to buy, use and support Microsoft software.

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