Microsoft's embarrassing problem with the future

When it comes to mobile computing, the cloud, and desktop virtualization, Microsoft can't seem to shoot straight

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Are they even meant to be better? The fear of cannibalizing PC-based Microsoft software with Web applications persists. Take Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), which delivers Microsoft-hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Live Meeting, and Communications. The price sounds good, starting at $10 per user per month. But Google Apps Professional costs less than half as much at $50 per user per year -- and includes Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Sites (meant to compete with SharePoint), all of it covered by a 99.9 percent uptime SLA.

BPOS includes a 99.9 percent uptime SLA, too -- but Office Web Apps doesn't come with the package. Sure, you can get Web Apps free from Office.Live.com, but with no SLA whatsoever. Or you have the option of serving up Office Web Apps from your own servers, but only if you've gotten Microsoft Office 2010 through a Volume Licensing program and deploy Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010. In other words (unless you go to the Live site for Office Web Apps), you have to license the fatware to get the webware.

To be fair, Microsoft has said that in the future, as the company updates BPOS with 2010 capabilities, Office Web Apps will be part of the BPOS package. But no date has been set.

Unrealized virtualization potential

There's an argument to made that Microsoft shouldn't waste its time on browser-based apps. Why not go hell-for-leather after desktop virtualization as an alternative to the tired old one-PC, one-license slog?

After all, Microsoft has a strong partnership with Citrix. Together they have long experience delivering Terminal Services solutions and they continue to collaborate on the VDI front. Citrix was also first to announce -- ahead of VMware -- a client hypervisor that will make virtual desktop machines portable so that users can compute when disconnected from the network.

So what's the problem? For one thing, Microsoft doesn't give you a break on VDI pricing. Virtual desktop licenses cost the same as physical desktop licenses, which puts a damper on the desktop virtualization value proposition. Plus, the client hypervisor Citrix is working on probably won't be in production until 2011.

Once, Microsoft at least put on a good show of knowing where it was going. But now, its actions suggest that the company is in denial that the future will ever come.

This article, "Microsoft's embarrassing problem with the future" originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at infoworldmobile.com.

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