Microsoft incantation: Software PLUS Services

One of the more amazing things to witness live and in person is the Microsoft Marketing Machine. No where is it more gleaming than when Microsoft’s top execs are addressing their channel partners.  All executives manage to repeat the same key marketing phrases as if reciting an incantation to hypnotize the masses. At the Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver, that most-oft repeated incantation was, without a doubt, “Software plus Services.” This is the new Microsoft speak for the company’s software-as-a-service strategy, which had been mostly dribbling out as a series of products labeled “Live” and a lot of visionary speak from folks such as Ray Ozzie.

The channel partners, who earn their livings at the hands of the Marketing Machine, are eager and happy recipients of the incantation. They hope to be able to wave it over their customers and mesmerize them.

But magical metaphors aside, the “software plus services” message is at least a clear one. The idea is that the fat client is never going away (in much the same way that the mainframe never went away). But that some users – perhaps even most of them -- will eventually opt to leave their at least some of their software to the cloud, picking and chose between the bits to keep on-premises and which to leave to SaaS providers.  

Therefore, Microsoft plans to roll out both forms of its most popular software, SaaS versions (Live editions) and traditional licensed versions. During the keynote Steve Ballmer offered up Exchange 2007 as the perfect example of the software-plus-services model. It can be delivered with a fat client, it can be delivered via a thin AJAX-based client, it can be bought as a service. (For expert advise and insight on Exchange 2007, read Rand Morimoto’s blog, co-author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Unleashed.) 

COO Kevin Turner said that he fully expects Office Live to become one of Microsoft’s top four deployed applications within the next two to three years. Live will be deployed “in five more geographies” over the next year, he said. 

Only one crack appeared in the uniform software-plus-services message. Ballmer briefly showed a slide that depicted his longer-term vision in which he mentioned a slow migration away from today’s on-premises servers toward hosted services and eventually toward shared services. These shared services, or “platform in the cloud” as Ballmer described it, would consist of a computational, management, storage and networking infrastructure shared between companies. 

What he didn’t say to the starry eyed crowd (who he wants to keep motivated to write custom apps for Windows and resell Vista) is that this long-term vision looks strikingly like the SaaS model

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