Microsoft’s Cloud Expands


Microsoft says face it: work is everywhere and you should get used to it.

Microsoft is probably going to have to get used to a few things itself, including how it much money it makes in this world.

On Monday the company showed off the next version of its Office product for documents and spreadsheets, as well as changes to its Outlook e-mail and calendar service. The products are now cloud based, which means that powerful computers access over the Internet enable customers to access products from anywhere, and the products remember where a customer left off using them. A document that’s being edited, for example, will open up at the last point in the text where a change was made.

In addition, Microsoft showed how these products tie into other Microsoft products, like Skype or the Yammer corporate collaboration service. Bing maps can pop up in email to show where an address is, and customers can make notes on the map.

“This is the biggest, most ambitious release of Office that we’ve ever done in our history,” said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer of Miocrosoft. Nowadays, he said, “people work in much more social and collaborative ways.”

The cloud does potentially tie together a number of Microsoft’s acquisitions, and things it has been working on, in an attractive way. Office was shown on tablets from Samsung running Windows 8. There was a demonstration of documents stored in SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service, and opened up on a Windows 8 phone (which will be out in October.) There was a mock-up of a collaborative meeting that used a large high-definition video monitor from Perceptive Pixel, a company Microsoft bought last week.

What wasn’t clear was what any of this would cost, and how that would go over. All Mr. Ballmer said was “we have a lot of work to get the cost down.” The more he does, however, the more he may undermine the profitability of Office, Microsoft’s flagship product. Wall Street won’t like that. Microsoft could win in the cloud, but survival could be costly.

There was one other unintended note in the presentation: While the early demonstration supposedly focused on home use of the product, the stress was on being able to work from home. Brochures were redrawn, e-mails were attended to, people worked on projects near their kids. Even testimonials from customers flown in for the event underlined the world Microsoft sees.

“The neat part is, my office is now everywhere,” said Kim Grant, a mother and part-time lawyer from Houston. “I can get my work done from my daughter’s volleyball game.”

Say what you will, Microsoft understands, and shapes, the times we live in.