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Microsoft addresses Google, Zoho online apps

Microsoft let another shoe drop Monday in its “software plus services” take on software-as-a-service

First it announced a free service, with the catchy name Microsoft Office Live Workspace. This will let users securely access their stored online documents and files from anywhere. Users can pre-register now for the beta. Those documents and files will be stored by Microsoft.  And the Groove technology Microsoft acquired along with Ray Ozzie’s Groove Networks a few  years back will presumably be the mechanism for working with those documents off line.

 The company was careful in its announcement to differentiate between this with its pre-existing Office Live service for small businesses which is now dubbed -you guessed it-Office Live Small Business. The company claims 450,000 users.

Also new, but  hardly unexpected, is Microsoft hosted SharePoint, or Office SharePoint Online.  To be clear, the aforementioned Office Live Small Business also uses Sharepoint as a foundation.

Again, solution providers, especially those who host technologies for small businesses have to watch these developments carefully.  While one side of Microsoft wants partners to host applications on Microsoft foundations, another increasingly important group maintains that Microsoft itself must host a wide array of services for consumers and small businesses to combat the threat from Google and cool offerings from Zoho.

Solution providers working with enterprises had better also keep their eye on the company’s growing array of managed services. Microsoft Managed Services now include hosted Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, and Live Communications Server.

While Google, which has blazed the trail for lean online apps for consumers and now some business people, has not had to worry about alienating its partner base, the same cannot be said for Microsoft, which must tread a fine line here.

As Ozzie  himself said when he was named to his lofty role , Microsoft  is being forced to change, just as its partners must change.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Barbara Darrow, a Boston-area freelance journalist can be reached at badarrow@comcast.net.

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I think the most pressing problem with most of these vendors is two-fold. First, most provide a single point solution (i.e. Dropbox, Skype) that tries to do everything. These are great tools, but they need to have a more user-centric approach outside of the feature they provide. Second, most of the collaboration tools lack of ease-of-use. Features are abundant but those same features (file sharing, micro-blogging, task management, etc), have become commodities. All the vendors have them. But not all the vendors have the same user adoption (Sharepoint anyone?). The reason of course is that users find them to be too complex. Most users are simple when it comes to using technology. But we NEED them as part of our online collaboration experience. I suppose the overall complexity is the dirty secret of most collaboration tools.

The biggest single complaint we hear: ‘Our customers and employees wouldn’t use them…’ This is why we’re using Centroy. They’re focused on dead simple ease-of-use. The layout even has a Facebook feel. Humans are a creature of habit. The more they’re familiar with, the more likely they’ll be comfortable using it.

Centroy seems to get this. They really nailed it. All the same fancy features and security are there (they came first). But as I mentioned before, the features are a commodity. It’s the ease-of-use that’s become an untapped opportunity. Check them out. There’s a live demo sandbox. http://centroy.com
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