Microsoft’s Elop: clouds and the practical vision

Knowledge@Wharton recently carried an interview with Stephen Elop, who was hired from Adobe a year ago as head of Microsoft’s Business Division. This follows on from his keynote at the recent Wharton Business Technology Conference. The video and transcript are available on

It’s worth a read, and I’m not going to precis it here. But quite a lot of the interview is about where Microsoft is going with its office products – that’s a small "o" to give it the wider sense. Elop looks after Office of course, but also the extended collaboration tools (the unified communications offering and SharePoint), ERP, CRM and more.

There are two interpenetrating strands. First: Elop makes a strong differentiation between integration and interoperability. Too much integration between their own products, of  course, and they fall foul of the anti-trust watchdogs. But he expands on the way Microsoft has published interface specifications for many of its products, and works with other standards too. Open Document Format, for example, will be readable by the new Office suite. And he gives a case study of Apple’s iPhone which, using a combination of published interface specifations and some Microsoft patents, is now a viable and registered client for Exchange email.

Second: there are, in effect, three linked approaches to Office software. Elop is clear that there will always be the long-established rich client versions, and there will be a need for them. He claims that if Microsoft removed the ten least used features of Office they would get 25 million complaints – though I wondered how they know! We know, too, about Windows Live and Office Live: the cloud-style offerings. Then there will be a third version, which I interpret as being Office Lite to run in a browser. Elop envisages this as being used for lightweight reading and editing, perhaps from within an email environment, with the full featured Office application being used for final polishing.

Microsoft is trying not to have these seen as alternatives, but as related differently-oriented versions of a single approach. It makes sense and it might just be a reason for the next upgrade (that’s from XP, for most of us!)

Some of us saw Microsoft turn the company on a sixpence (on a dime, if you’re in the US, or a 5p if you’re not old enough to remember the sixpence) when they “got” the Internet. Their migration to an understanding of “open” is taking longer but, even without Bill Gates, they may well be getting it right for the marketplace. Follow the links, and decide what you think. Comments welcome.

Oh, and the “clouds” bit? Not just about cloud-based services, but Elop is a qualified pilot. So he really does have his head in the clouds, sometimes!

• Flying High: Microsoft’s Stephen Elop Balances Future Vision with Present-day Realities. Knowledge@Wharton, 18 Mar 2009
• Future Unleashed: the Wharton Business Technology Conference, Philadelphia, Feb 2009
• Stephen Elop: Wharton Business Technology Conference, Microsoft, 27 Feb 2009 (transcript, preceded by the Dean’s welcome, and Silverlight vide0)

Windows Azure – missing from the blogsphere?

It’s a month and more since Ray Ozzie announced it. But there seems to be remarkably little independent comment in the blogsphere about Windows Azure, Microsoft’s push into the world of cloud computing. The exception is TechCrunch (links below) and a link by lifehacker to a C|net News report. All credit to them: C|net haven’t just reproduced the Microsoft press release, but given us an account of Ray Ozzie’s announcement presentation at the Professional Developers’ Conference.

I’d better be careful what I mean by “independent” comment. The vast majority of the top hits in a Google blog search go back to blogs specifically concerned with Microsoft Windows or Vista. That’s not suggesting that Microsoft drives their content, or to decry the quality of their comments either. But it means that the wider world has perhaps missed the point. Remember when Microsoft finally “got it” about the Internet? It was playing catch-up, but it did so within the space of about six months.

Cloud computing already has its giants. Amazon led the high-profile way (with AWS, S3, EC2 and so on) but there are other Silicon Valley companies such as 3Tera, who I visited in Silicon Valley a couple of years ago. Major hardware vendors are making their announcements too (TechCrunch again, tracking the HP/Intel/Yahoo! announcement in July). But remember that Ozzie, with Lotus Notes to his name, is a veteran of the distributed services concept. And if Azure lives up to the expectation of being Windows on distributed steroids, then it is more than likely to be far more important than its coverage to date would suggest.

Watch this space!

• Microsoft Azure website
• Ozzie, Muglia, and Srivastava on Windows Azure TechCrunch, 27 Oct 2008 (there’s a video embedded in this report)
• Microsoft Unveils Windows Azure at Professional Developers Conference Microsoft PressPass, 27 Oct 2008
• Ray Ozzie on Azure, Office unchained, and Openness TechCrunch, 29 Oct 2008
• Microsoft launches Windows Azure C|net news, 27 Oct 2008
• Windows Azure unmasked ITPro, 30 Oct 2008