What software plus services means for Microsoft (and you)

By C.G. Lynch, CIO |  Small Business

In early March, during an annual conference in Seattle, Microsoft
announced it was launching Microsoft
Office SharePoint Online
. While the idea was to provide a lightweight version
of SharePoint as a hosted offering, analysts say the product has been presented
in a way to avoid cannibalizing Microsoft's bread-and-butter installed software
product, Office.

SharePoint, which started off as a document management system back in 2003,
also now includes
Web 2.0 features such as blogs, wikis and social networks
, which were added
in 2007. While users access SharePoint through a Web-browser, companies typically
host the SharePoint server software themselves, onpremise.

You won't find Microsoft executives calling SharePoint Online a SaaS (software
as a service) offering. In fact, according to analysts, that phrase doesn't
fit into Microsoft's lexicon of technology terms. Instead, it's called "software
plus services." At its core, software plus services essentially means that
Microsoft will provide online portals and will host the data, but in order to
manipulate the files that reside there, you'll need the Microsoft
Office
suite installed on your computer.

It's a similar idea to its Office Live product, currently in public beta, which
also requires users to have their versions of Office on their computer in order
to work on files.

Both Office Live and Microsoft Office SharePoint Online differ from fully Web-based,
SaaS offerings like those from Zoho and Google
Apps
, which allow users to author, edit and share documents all online.

According to Rob Curry, director of Microsoft SharePoint, software plus services
means letting businesses decide what data they are willing to let a vendor host
and what information must never leave the company's walls.

"It's not all or nothing," Curry explains. "There is certain
information they want to keep offsite and certain information they want to keep
onsite for compliance reasons."

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