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Microsoft Live services, anti-Google strategy, leave partners out of the loop

For Microsoft the question of whether to host or not to host remains a sticky one.

This week the company reiterated its hosting platform plans at HostingCon 2007 in Chicago and talked a bit about how the upcoming Windows Server 2008 and IIS7 will bolster hosting capabilities for partners and — no-brainer alert — for Microsoft itself.

While Google has hosted and managed its own services offerings from the get-go all by itself, Microsoft continues to walk a fine line between bringing hosting into its data centers and continuing to offer long-time hosting partners a robust platform for their services and software.

The company’s CRM Live and Office Live offerings are examples of how it wants to play all sides of the hosting game, on-premises delivery model.

Some of those partners compete directly with nascent Microsoft Office Live offerings and will continue to do so.

According to one long-time Microsft hosting partner: “We use Windows SharePoint Services as a platform so Microsoft is a platform and infrastructure partner. We develop on their APIs and leverage their ecosystem. That said, from an application and services perspective, we compete with Office Live which likewise runs on Windows SharePoint Services.”

The issue for the channel is that Office Live is Microsoft’s competitive response to Google Apps — especially for small businesses. As such, the software service is hosted, managed, secured by Microsoft itself.

Partners can conceivably do add-on work, but they have to tap into the Microsoft environment in a very limited way. They’re basically outside the tent.

“Office Live is a very prescriptive business model and if you don’t like it, you need to look elsewhere,” this partner said. He was not being altogether negative. He knows why Microsoft must do this for those customers demanding a vendor-supplied solution.

But he also sees opportunities for companies like his for customers who want more hand holding, more customization — that might include tapping into core (server-based) services, partners offering Windows Sharepoint Services (WSS) -based services may reap rewards.

While Microsoft may enable “co-branding” of Office Live solutions, partners who want to self brand their own work atop WSS must go another route, he said. (For an example of a co-branded solution, see what British Telecom is doing with Microsoft Live Meeting here.)

But Microsoft’s own approach forces partners to look elsewhere for that freedom, this hosting partner maintained.

“If you want to do a mash up that integrates other services with WSS and get under the hood of an application template, you can’t do that with Office Live. Traditionally, the Microsoft Windows platform evangelist will say ‘Here’s our API, go crazy with it.’”

For Office Live, he continues, the platform message is different. There it’s more like: “’Here’s a set of apps we control, we host, we manage, we support, and we deliver. We’re still interested in having third parties do stuff atop it but we still control it.’”

“If you want to change the way a server-side control works so your app behaves in a certain way, you can o that in native Windows but you cannot do that in Office Live. In Office Live you can only develop client-side code using JavaScript to talk to locked-down server-side functions.”

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