A few months ago Microsoft launched Office Live, a set of online collaboration tools to bring some elements of Office to the Web. The three online products available look to be a really great idea by Microsoft. So good, in fact, that I thought I'd give it a whirl.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get to even signing up — The Web site told me I had to update to the latest version of Internet explorer. The problem with this is that I was using the Safari browser on a Mac. I tried with the Mac version of IE, Opera, and Firefox — all with no success.
This hasn't been the first disappointment I've had with Microsoft's new wave of online applications. I beta tested the new Hotmail, which is looking to compete with Google's popular e-mail client, Gmail. Unfortunately I had to revert back to the old version of Hotmail (not that I use it much anymore these days) because the new beta didn't support anything except IE properly.
I could understand Microsoft's position if they were offering desktop applications but this is the Web. The Web, dammit!
Later this month in Las Vegas, Microsoft are hosting a conference, called Mix 06, for Web developers looking to use the company's technology to deliver the next wave of Web-based applications. According to the Mix 06 Web site, the pitch is:
"If you do business on the Web today, it's likely that more than 90% of your customers reach you via Microsoft® Internet Explorer and/or Microsoft Windows®. Come to MIX and learn how the next versions of these products, due later this year, are going to dramatically improve your customers' experience."
So Microsoft's approach is to only reach 90% of our customers as developers? Is that enough for Web-based applications? Furthermore, how many of those customers are going to upgrade to Vista when it finally appears. And then what Web applications will work on Vista but not XP? What happens if your customers move to another browser or operating system?
Its going to be an interesting time for Microsoft. The majority of popular Web applications are built upon open standards and work over multiple browsers and operating systems. One of the great advantages of Web-based applications is that the operating system or browser don't make a great deal of difference, giving customers choice and flexibility with their software purchasing decisions.
Or is this the point for Microsoft? Tie customers to Microsoft only Web apps?
The Mix 06 conference looks to be a real eye-opener and Builder AU will no doubt be covering the news as it comes to hand. In the meantime, if you've checked out Office Live, the new Hotmail, or any other IE specific Web-based app, let me know what you think of it because I won't be checking them out until I get back to the office.