There has been much online speculation about how Microsoft is going to head off the Google Apps free office software attack, much of it focusing on an advertising supported version of Microsoft Office. While this may, at some point, feature in the Microsoft strategy it is not going to appear any time soon. Microsoft Works SE9 most certainly will, in fact it is here already.

A pilot program, albeit a very small one, has been started to test the workability of the advertising supported model and Microsoft has confirmed this. The pilot is expected to last well into next year, and consist of a relatively small closed group of testers. There are no plans or the ad-supported version to be made available for public Beta testing. Just as there are no plans to make it available as a web powered or online application. According to my sources, Microsoft Works will remain firmly anchored to the desktop, it is just the revenue methodology that will change.

The concept is nothing new as such, although obviously it is a whole new ballpark for Microsoft to be playing in. Every time the user fires the software up, and an Internet connection is present, advertising content will get updated. These adverts being displayed whether you disable your Internet connection or not. Expect there to be some mechanism to prevent usage if an Internet connection to update the adverts is not made over a given timeframe.

What you cannot expect, however, is the use of Google-alike contextual advertising via text analysis. Instead, Microsoft is insisting that its advertising will be entirely based on user demographics of the Works product line. It will, of course, both serve and track the adverts using a Microsoft advertising platform, and generate revenue this way.

I am not convinced that Microsoft has grasped the real issue here though, the threat that web driven applications pose. Instead of starting from scratch and looking to tackle Google head on, it has chosen the easy option of rolling out an already dated and, importantly, dirt cheap desktop product and making it a free option. This does nothing to stem the flow of interest in Google Apps or OpenOffice, all it does is leave the watching world with the very real impression that Microsoft is creating competition within its own product line.

C'mon Microsoft, be daring, take a chance and innovate. Where has the passion that got you to the top of the software tree gone? Morph Microsoft Office into a truly online delivered experience, with options for ad-sponsored or subscription versions, and ensure that your dominance in this market continues. Or you could continue to plod along with your head in the warm and profitable sand, until such a time as the wave of web applications washes it away leaving you exposed and naked, unable to play catch up.

About the Author

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

Microsoft is fully aware of the grave danger that web based applications pose for data security and privacy sensitive information.

Personally I wouldn't trust any of my data to a company like Google (or any other for that matter).
Way too risky, you loose all control over what happens with your corporate secrets.
The host could sell it all to your competitors and you'd never know until it was way too late (if then) and at that time you will almost certainly be silently pointed at the miniscule print you didn't read in the service contract which states that your host reserves the right to do with the data as they see fit.

The web is no place to store corporate data (or you personal private data), unless you don't mind it being publicly available for anyone with the funds and/or technical ability to buy or steal it.
And paying someone else to store that data for you is even worse, it's like giving a complete stranger the keys to your house and a letter saying they're free to take whatever they want.

I agree with jwenting. Giving my stuff to an online only program seems like a bad idea. What if it crashs? or I click save and the internet connection dies? Bye bye hours of work! And there is NO way any company should have confidential data being shared across the net so easily. Far too easy to get into wrong hands. At the company I work for, we do online backing up with databarracks, for which we setup our own passwords and nobody else knows them. data is then heavily encrypted and then sent. Online services dont do this so I would be very suprised if any company used it. Conversly though, fo students and the like, this could well prove to be popular. As to who they favour.... time will tell!

I don't think MS has innovation problems, but I'm sure there are plenty that would say otherwise.

Microsoft is a Corporation whose objective is to make a profit and bring happiness to its shareholders.

Web apps are useful indeed...for typing up non-confidential documents on a free platform. In Corporate America, the lack of security, stability and scalability presents absolutely NO MARKET for the technology other than another free useful application.

If there is no market for a product and Microsoft was a company who wants to make profit why would they want to allocate massive resources to competing with these free web applications?

It is my opinion MS is just getting into the market with Works because:

1. Works is not really used in Corporate America
2. Microsoft's revenues from Works are probably pathetic expressed aggregately
3. Microsoft will probably better benefit as a corporation to get into this market and have its name stamped on a free product, allowing users to move onto their higher end products later on because of their satisfaction with even free/low-end Microsoft products.

So it is really easy to sit back and imply MS can't innovate or is dumb etc, but it looks like they have all their ducks in a row on this one to me.

If I was a pro-Free/Open Source software person I'd look at this as a gracious contribution to Free software from Microsoft...which will not only help the computer community, but also helps Microsoft's bottom line in the long run. What is wrong with doing something that is aligned with two fundamentals?