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Microsoft Office 2010 interview

01 Apr 2010

Part 1: Microsoft Senior Product Manager and New Zealand expat, Geoff Anderson, talks to IT Brief about the upcoming launch of Office 2010.

You can read Part 2 here.

Anderson was recently in his homeland of New Zealand to visit Microsoft customers and partners ahead of May’s launch of Office 2010. IT Brief caught up with Anderson at Microsoft’s Auckland office to discuss the Office 2010 deployment and the R&D process behind the product.

First of all, tell us why you’re back in New Zealand.

Part of my job is talking to customers about what they’re looking for with Office and our overall productivity vision. They’re interested in topics like what’s new in Office 2010 and our vision for the cloud, plus it’s New Zealand, so it’s always good to be back.

What do you make of the whole Google Apps versus Web Apps situation?

There are two different markets that we operate in. There’s the consumer market, and yes, we are going to offer as part of Windows Live SkyDrive, Office Web Apps across that channel. That’s free to anyone that has a Windows Live SkyDrive.

The big thing about Office Windows Web Apps and the point that hasn’t been made is that you open a document in a web app from a particular place. So if you’ve got documents in Windows Live SkyDrive you use the web apps from there. If you’ve got them in SharePoint or in our cloud solutions then you open them from there.

We’re not expecting a lot of crossover between the two because we don’t expect most enterprises will want their users putting documents into SkyDrive. Generally they have security, manageability and policy requirements. They’re the same front end but the value proposition is really very different for the enterprise from what it is for a consumer.

What are the key new features of Office 2010 in your opinion?

It’s been in development for about three years and there are four pillars that we think of for Office. The first is ‘work better together’ so it improves how people can do that. The second is ‘bring ideas to life’ and third is ‘practical productivity platform’ which is about the IT capability. And the fourth is… I think jetlag is getting to me.

But the most important one is ‘work better together’ where we’ve introduced things like co-authoring. So in the apps, I’m now able to work on a document at the same time as other people. There’s the Outlook Social Connector which will have feeds for Facebook, LinkedIn and also SharePoint for enterprise users. So those are ways for people who are used to the Outlook interface to get that info in that context.

In terms if bringing ideas to life we’ve made new investments in video editing within PowerPoint. So I can take a video clip, trim it, change it, recolour it. I can create the right piece of media and have it right there within PowerPoint.

For the productivity platform for the first time we have a 64-bit option, which is really targeted at high end users who want to make use of a lot of RAM. We have better multicore performance so as you buy new hardware you’ll get better performance on your newer processers. Apart from a small increase in disc space, it actually runs on the same specifications are Office 2007, so there isn’t a need for organisations to buy new hardware to deploy Office 2010 but it will work better for them in the future.

From an R&D perspective, how hard is it to predict what businesses will need three years down the line?

We actually invest about US$9 billion every year in R&D and about $950 million of that is in the Office products. We have Microsoft Research which does foundational research. And that can literally be eight to ten years out before it gets into a product. We have Office Labs who are taking some of that work and pulling it back to a kind of three to seven year time frame. They’re also taking the current product and combining it with their research to help us get a picture and prototype what we think might be future trends.

The majority of what’s left goes into development of the product. The first phrase of the product team is to go out, do the research and establish what the world’s going to look like at the next release date.

Is it getting harder to predict the future as technology advances and becomes more available and cheaper?

In many ways it’s very clear some of the places we are going. A lot of the things that we have done this time are bang on. For example I think that this is the right moment for Web Apps to become a great companion to the Office client.

This is a great moment for some of the integration that we have between SharePoint, Exchange and Office Communication Server and Office. Those are things that our customers are excited about and things that have played very well during the beta phase.

Does much ever get dropped from the final products?

I can’t think of an example that got cut but I can think of an example – The Social Connector – and how that was a process we were constantly reevaluating.

Was the whole Facebook explosion a surprise? 

I don’t think it was a surprise but it became apparent that there was opportunity. The way we’d originally conceived social connectivity in Outlook was between SharePoint and Outlook because we were building some big social networking investments into SharePoint and bringing that social networking capability into the enterprise.

So instead of finding my friends in the enterprise I can find experts and people that I can connect to and get info from. We really wanted to surface that both in the browser from SharePoint and from Outlook in a useful way.

Then it became apparent that there was really an opportunity to extend that vision out and Facebook and LinkedIn became obvious partners. That was a relatively late breaking change for us. But in many ways it was an extension of what we’d originally thought, not necessarily because of any dramatic surprise.

Hit this link for Part 2.