Service cloud covers Microsoft

In August I wrote about a report on the future of office document software (e.g. Microsoft Office, Open Office), that I was involved in editing. One of the things that the report’s author, Walter Ditch, highlighted when looking to the future direction of these systems was the possibility that they would be superseded by online services that will allow us to create, edit and store our word processing and spreadsheet files online, without any need to install software on our computer. Such services are sometimes referred to as provision through ‘service clouds’.

An example of this is GoogleDocs, which allows you to create and edit files online, and there has been some speculation that Microsoft would follow suit. On Monday, Microsoft duly announced a limited, beta trial of its Office Live Workspace, which provides some of its Office document functionality through a service cloud.

However, Office Live Workspace is limited in scope: it lets you upload and share your existing Office documents through an online workspace but does not allow you to create new documents or edit existing ones. It is pitched as a collaboration tool that allows you access to your documents, through the browser, from any computer.

Meanwhile, Adobe announced on Monday that it has acquired a small online service provider called Virtual Ubiquity. Their product is a beta version of something called Buzzwords, an online word processor built around the Flash graphics system, which, like GoogleDocs, allows you to create and edit files.

Competition is therefore hotting up, and many analysts believe it is only a matter of time before Microsoft’s Office Live has to provide this additional functionality. But in the meantime you have to use the desktop application version of its software to create and edit files. No doubt they are reluctant to cannibalise their existing market, but I think there is only so long they can hold this line.

But perhaps Google shouldn’t worry too much at this stage. I tried to sign up for both of these systems – Buzzwords and Live Workspace – but they both seem to be operating extremely limited programmes and to date I’ve not received any further information or account details. Even worse, in the case of Live Workspace the system only functions with the Internet Explorer browser running on Windows XP or Vista, which makes life difficult for a Mac user.

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