Analysis: Microsoft sets up shop

By Peter Gothard
18 Oct 2012 View Comments

Office 13 was unveiled by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in July, but was only released to manufacturing partners last week and will not go live until Q1 2013. In the meantime, Microsoft is trying to build enthusiasm for its latest community push, and beating heart of the new enterprise package: the store model for Office and SharePoint. This, theoretically, allows tiny elements of code to plug in to existing applications, altering the way they work and enhancing a user’s experience.

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An app model seems a natural fit. Microsoft Office has one billion users – as many as Facebook. Adopting Apple’s model to virally distribute small, neat code packages among this massive user base makes sense.

“We’re calling it the biggest change since VBA [Visual Basic for Applications] was introduced,” says Microsoft director for SharePoint, Richard Riley (pictured).

But the critical difference is that, while VBA runs inside the Office application, the store contents run from outside, streaming in from remote servers via HTML 5 and JavaScript, and running independently of Office, SharePoint and the documents being created within them.

The development environment is also identical for both Office and SharePoint apps.

“That means, off the bat, we’re bringing those two ecosystems together. If you’re an Office developer, you’re a SharePoint developer, and vice versa,” says Riley.

Computing was shown simple examples of bespoke applications, including a global “heat map” that pops up on an Excel spreadsheet, drawing its geographical data from Bing Maps and intelligently drawing amounts and capitals from the document. There are restrictions on exactly how far an app can change a document, of course. This isn’t VBA, Riley stresses. “This model is all about enriching the content and adding context to it,” he says.

Microsoft believes IT departments will benefit from coding their own bespoke applications, while developers, says Riley, can enjoy a hugely flexible business model to join the store and begin selling their wares on a potentially large scale.

The stores are launching with an aggressively open-ended retail model. “This is absolutely a play to ignite our ecosystem,” says Riley, as he explains that – beyond Microsoft’s 20 per cent cut – developers are entirely free to try their own pricing ideas.

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