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Interview: Office System tightens client and server bond

Interview: Office System tightens client and server bond

Microsoft's Gydis Barzdukas would seem to be a man in the right place and right time to carry out Microsoft's stated strategic goal of more closely knitting together its Windows Server 2003, SharePoint servers, and Office System 2003 products.

Microsoft's Gydis Barzdukas would seem to be a man in the right place and right time to carry out Microsoft's stated strategic goal of more closely knitting together its Windows Server 2003, SharePoint servers, and Office System 2003 products. While Barzdukas has for the past 20 months served as Director of Office Product Management, over the past nine years at Microsoft he helped guide Exchange Server and SharePoint Portal Server to market. Barzdukas sat down with Editor At Large Ed Scannell to discuss how Microsoft is positioning Office System 2003 as a development platform, how it is resonating with developers, and how future versions of Office might exploit Longhorn. InfoWorld: Some analysts are saying that the deferred revenues from Office are way down.

Barzdukas: We saw that trend and then it got reversed at the end of last quarter. Things have improved to some degree. Our renewals and enterprise agreements with users are starting to pick up again. There were a whole set of users who may have pre-bought before Office 2003 was launched. It is just the natural cycle of renewals. We have users whose fiscal years end in December and that is when they buy, and then there is another set of users who buy at the end of our fiscal year, which is June 30.

InfoWorld: You have been promoting Office System as a development platform. How is that message resonating with corporate and third-party developers?

Barzdukas: It is starting to resonate with customers. I was meeting recently with our Architectural Partner Board, a group of third-party partners who we do a lot of development work with on .Net, and they said they were skeptical when we started bringing out that message. But then they took a look at the Visual Studio tools for Office and they said, "Hey, this stuff is actually pretty cool. Give us more of that so we can integrate apps (with) PowerPoint or Outlook, like we can with Word and Excel." So we are starting to get some traction with the engineers and developers, who are looking more at Office as a true platform.

InfoWorld: How much will XML help the perception of Office as a development environment? Are their fates tied?

Barzdukas: Absolutely. If you think of all the products we have had centered around XML, we had the tools such as Visual Studio .Net, then we had Windows Server 2003 which provided the underpinnings for the back end for things like SQL Server, then with Office System we finished the circle where we now have the desktop, which is a native player around XML. So those users interested in using (Office) as their platform, now have the tools, back-end server, and a rich client environment to build those types of solutions. Are we seeing a total tidal wave around this technology? No. But we are seeing good traction and customers like Merck, which is using InfoPath to do a lot of their critical drug trial reporting.

InfoWorld: What is the biggest thing people do not understand about your strategy of integrating Office System 2003, SharePoint Server, and Windows Server 2003?

Barzdukas: I have been really struck by many users' assumption that they need to buy into the whole enchilada to get any value or benefit. What we try to do to offset that is to let them know that first, there is a lot of value right out of the box, like Outlook. And then, if you want to build on that incrementally or if you want a Microsoft infrastructure on the back end with things like SharePoint, you can also do that sort of integration. If you want to integrate to other back-end systems with XML and InfoPath, you can do that also. The misperception users have is that they have to take the whole Office System to realize any benefit. That just isn't the way it is designed.

InfoWorld: How important is Whidbey to Office Systems 2003 as a development environment?

Barzdukas: It will be very important to us. I think the whole next generation of our products, everything from Longhorn to Whidbey to the next version of Office, we want to make sure that these are all designed to work well together out of the box. Whidbey will be very important in terms of things like Web parts. The Web parts framework is part of the SharePoint technologies today. You will be able to build Web parts directly from within Whidbey, so it will be very important.

InfoWorld: What will the Longhorn version of Office look like when arrives in 2006?

Barzdukas: It is a little bit early to talk about features given the engineering schedules, which can be pretty fluid. We are working with the Windows team regarding their Longhorn plans and figuring out how to take advantage of the underlying architectural changes that could be a part of Longhorn, as well as some of the UI changes that are being contemplated for Longhorn. The thing we want to do is provide more depth in some of the areas, and that's everything from the collaborative environment, the SharePoint technologies, as well as better integration with things like Live Meeting, Live and Communication servers.

InfoWorld: What do you make of recent reports out of Sweden that IBM is working on a version of Office that will run under Linux?

Barzdukas: There are a bunch of different efforts to develop things that are very much like Office. We welcome that competition. (Those efforts) move the bar forward for users and give us more incentive to innovate as a company.

InfoWorld: Many corporate users say Office 2000 and Office XP is fine for them and there is no real incentive to upgrade to Office Systems 2003.

Barzdukas: That is part of the challenge and what is so exciting about this job is redefining for users what Office means. By talking about the integration of software and services and servers, it is no longer a story about just desktop productivity. It is about both individual productivity as well as team productivity.

InfoWorld: Users continue to say they rarely use more than 10 or 20 percent of Office's capabilities. Has Microsoft considered doing a lighter version?

Barzdukas: The funny thing there is everyone uses a different 20 percent. It is really hard to arbitrarily decide these features are not useful and these are. You get a lot of push back from users. Users still want the option of having that functionality available to them. If we didn't think something was useful to somebody out there, we would not have put it in the product in the first place. We have thought of lighter versions of Office, but when we test it with users it just doesn't seem to resonate.

InfoWorld: How do you go about collecting information about how to upgrade such a product, given the wide diversity among 200 million registered users?

Barzdukas: We take two approaches. First we talk to users and have a continuing dialog program with them. Even now we are talking to users about the next release and going out and getting their input and feedback. Second, we take a look at where we see computer science going in the next couple of years and how can we take advantage of breakthrough technologies. It can be a delicate balance between getting customers' feedback and where we think they need to go. -- InfoWorld (US online)

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