Today’s four-minute screencast explores Office Live. It shows how to codelessly create a database table in the cloud, add data-collection and -display widgets to pages of an Office Live site, and then manage that data through the web and also from a remote Access client. To be clear, although Office Live Basics, which includes domain name and web hosting plus email service, is free, I made this screencast using the $20/month Office Live Essentials which adds contact management, document libraries, blog and wiki features, secure private workspaces, and the ability to create customized data collection and display as shown in the screencast.
Among technical folk, the elevator pitch for Office Live is: hosted SharePoint. But that will mean nothing to many of the SMBs (small-to-medium businesses) that Office Live seeks to attract as customers. Which is fine because those folks don’t need to know anything about SharePoint. What they do need, but mostly don’t know that they need, is a way to manage public and private data in the cloud — but with an umbilical cord that connects back to the desktop applications they have and use.
Although Office Live can in fact meet that need, it’s not obvious that it can. When Walt Mossberg and Joe Wilcox tire-kicked the service, they produced nothing more than a couple of brochureware sites, and I can hardly blame them. Although the data-gathering and data-display features of my otherwise brochureware-only site required no coding to implement, I had to use a lot of technical savvy to achieve the codeless solution.
So, commentators — including Walt Mossberg and Robert Scoble — were shocked to discover that Office Live isn’t a hosted version of Office along the lines of Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Meanwhile, developers are scoping out the opportunity to build on the platform. And customers, so far as I can see, are mostly responding to free web hosting and email.
What about all the small-to-medium businesses who today manage data on the desktop, and who could benefit enormously from the ability to push some of that data management into the cloud while retaining the umbilical cord to the desktop? There’s an interesting do-it-yourself opportunity here which I’m pretty sure those folks are not seeing. And again, who can blame them? Although the screencast shows what’s possible, SharePoint is an ungainly contraption that I had to wrestle into submission in order to produce it.
Nevertheless, I’m fascinated by the possibilities here. Hundreds of millions of people manage data in desktop applications Excel and Access. They’re the base. Vastly fewer people manage data in web applications like QuickBase or Dabble DB. They’re the vanguard. If Office Live can become a bridge between the base and the vanguard, that would be a good thing for everyone.