With a new software-as-a-service package, including mostly communications programs like Live Writer, Live Mail and Live Messenger, Microsoft is getting nods for inching forward into a more solid SaaS position, as in this IT Week piece. The first comparison brought out is, of course, with Google's Web-based desktop software packages, which already include an office suite. Google Docs & Spreadsheets are limited in functionality, but Microsoft has no Web-based versions of its office suite at all. The two timelines are certainly not in sync. But is that a problem?
The conventional wisdom -- well-represented by analyst firm Gartner -- is that SaaS is an unstoppable trend and vendors, including the biggest of the traditional software purveyors, must get on board or be left behind.
Procuri's Tim Minahan told IT Business Edge, though, that the strongest SaaS uptake is taking place in inter-enterprise apps, for collaboration purposes. Traditional on-premise enterprise apps, he says:
"...do a great job of organizing your finances and resources within the four walls of your organization, but the licensing model doesn't lend itself well to managing information between you and your trading partners, whether they are on the customer side or the supplier side."
Intra-enterprise apps, like desktop suites, Minahan says, have their place, but often are a follow-on to those initial outward-facing implementations.
Now, remember, though, that Microsoft has long been a practicer and a proponent of a hybrid approach, adding to its Office Live and Windows Live packages somewhat ploddingly, and employing Web apps like WGA, if not without large hiccups. When asked about the hybrid approach, Minahan said, "I wouldn't confuse the needs of the enterprise with the needs of the vendors." He offers Oracle and SAP as examples (and Microsoft could be considered in this group of "goliaths")
"So will the hybrid model offer their customers more options? Absolutely. Will they ever move entirely off a traditional installed software model? I am highly doubtful."
Another reminder that SaaS can't quite take over the tech world: John Dvorak reminds us that we're naive if we neglect to consider the fact that once the Web server we're working off of goes down or otherwise has a service gap, we're toast. Ironically, he uses Microsoft's recent WGA problem, which left customers without a functioning OS for as long as 19 hours, as a prime example of the misery that Web apps will rain down on us if we employ them in inappropriate spots.
Dvorak says failures like this one may well put the brakes to the SaaS trend, and uses a clever "reverse timeline" device to demonstrate how the tech industry could all be led by the nose back to the so-called traditional software sales model, if the marketing folks wanted to pull in that direction.
But I think the larger trend-within-the-trend is that, obviously, SaaS penetration won't be uniform across all software types. At the Office 2.0 conference, going on now in San Francisco, where plenty of Web-based apps will be debuted in the next couple of days, panelists and presenters are most eager to discuss collaboration, networking and providing tools that serve the way people work now.
A ZDNet piece from the conference reports Etelos CEO Danny Kolke said, "a focus on replicating what Microsoft or others are doing and putting it in a browser isn't Office 2.0. That's the wrong vision."
That's a wise statement for producers of Web-based apps, whether they happen to be Microsoft or not.