Do you want Office in the cloud?

David Berlind has a series of interesting posts about Google apps versus Microsoft Office; the series starts here, more or less. Today there’s a related post from Dan Farber, who reports Microsoft’s claim (from Jeff Raikes) that there is little demand for Microsoft Office in the cloud.

Cloud-based applications have huge advantages – easy collaboration, zero install – but it happens that for me, there is little incentive to use Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets or the like. Cloud storage is more important than cloud applications. Cloud storage solves several problems including anywhere access and off-site backup. I also use an internet-based subversion repository that gives me document history. But I don’t need to use cloud applications in order to benefit from cloud storage. When out and about I usually work on my own laptop, not in internet cafes or on other people’s PCs. 

When I first saw Amazon S3 I knew immediately that it would be useful to me. When I saw Docs and Spreadsheets (and its predecessors like Writely), I was greatly impressed but had little reason actually to use the applications.

I am speaking personally because this will not be true for everyone. For some, the collaboration and zero install benefits of cloud apps will be more significant than they are for me. Further, these online applications are also an easy route to cloud storage; I realise that not everyone wants to mess around with S3 or Subversion. There is friction in having to think about where to save a document. With online applications that friction is removed.

What if Microsoft made cloud storage as seamless in Office as it is in Google Docs and Spreadsheets? It is surprising that an option to save to Windows Live is not built into Office 2007. Of course there is Sharepoint, whichI presume is the underlying platform for Live storage, and there is Groove, but the average home or small business user won’t have these set up. There are a couple of mysterious options in Word, under the Publish menu, for saving to a Document Management Server or creating a Document Workspace. They don’t do much out of the box. There is no wizard to help users create a new free Live account, with extra space and features for subscribers, for example.

There is also the question of bloat, which Berlind considers here and here. This is one of those things you don’t care about, until you do. I don’t care about bloat if an app performs well and the unneeded features are not in my way. I do care when it turns into an Outlook 2007 debacle. You run Outlook; then you run Thunderbird; and you see the downside of bloat. Word and Excel? Not an issue right now, they hum along fine.

So what does next-gen Office look like? Is it an improved Docs and Spreadsheets? Or Microsoft Office/Open Office plus cloud storage? I’m interested in opinions.