Microsoft is set to launch a range of hosted services this week.
Chief software architect Bill Gates and chief technical officer Ray Ozzie will announce on Tuesday " upcoming technologies from Microsoft". Analysts said that the company is going to offer some hosted services that steer users towards using other components of Microsoft's software platform. Microsoft executives have announced the company's intent to offer hosted services but have not unveiled many details of that plan so far.
"I think theyre going to announce business-focused services that are complements to Microsofts software," said Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft Inc. "I think at the [July] financial analyst meeting, [executives] said clearly they saw it as a viable business. ... Outside vendors are proving its a viable business."
Microsoft will probably follow the lead of companies such as Intuit and Salesforce.com and offer both a hosted document data-sharing service and a hosted CRM (customer relationship management) service, Helm said. Intuit offers the former with its QuickBase service, and Salesforce.com offers the latter with its namesake service, Salesforce.com.
Hosted CRM would not be new territory for Microsoft, since the company's MSN division offered a hosted CRM service called ClearLead as part of its BCentral for Hosted Small Business Services in 2000, but it didn't catch on with customers.
"It was too early, and MSN didnt have a strong brand recognition in the small-business area," Helm said. "Since then, Salesforce.com has shown that [hosted CRM] is a viable business, and this time around Microsoft has a better understanding of how to get to customers."
In addition, analysts expect the two executives to discuss new services from Groove Networks, Ozzie's company that Microsoft purchased in March, such as a secure file-sharing service companies can use to collaborate with trusted partners.
Some prominent Microsoft watchers, such as Richard MacManus, also have suggested a hosted version of Microsoft Office may be in the works. In his blog, MacManus has outlined web-based productivity suites from smaller vendors and predicted that Microsoft would eventually come out with its own.
"The time for the web-based office will come, mark my words," MacManus wrote. "When broadband is ubiquitous, web functionality is richer, issues of security and reliability have been put to rest, and most importantly of all - when corporates are ready to make the jump. It may be five to 10 years down the track, it may be longer."