In advance of Microsoft Corp.'s introduction of its next version of Office, Seattle Bureau Chief Jay Greene sat down with Chairman William H. Gates III on Oct. 10 at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. Here are excerpts.
Office historically has been about personal productivity. What is the focus now?
Almost everything is group-oriented. Everything has to do with the inefficiencies that exist with people working together.
This is the first release of Office where server and service products are integrated with the PC software. Is this the future of software?
We're evolving away from the packaged product you just go buy to what we refer to as software as a service. With this new vision, you're getting regular updates of new templates. Any problems that emerge are fixed before you run into them, [and] you get things that run on the Internet that help you share schedules with other people. There is significant value that comes through the servers that Office connects up to. You'll just see more and more of that in the years ahead.
What's the most important new innovation in Office?
I'd probably pick SharePoint [which lets workers easily set up internal Web sites for group projects]. SharePoint Web sites really change how people work. In the past, to share documents, you would send attachments around via e-mail and you wouldn't know who got different versions. Now you don't have to do anything except click and start a new SharePoint Web site and then notify people that you're putting information up there.
Is this the first Microsoft product for consumers that fulfills the company's .Net vision of delivering new capabilities to people though Web services?
This is a good step in that direction. People will be able to get information through reference services, quote services, map services, shipping-charge services, and the like. They'll start to think of software as not just being contained on the PC but being able to call out to Web services to get additional things. If you don't want to compute a FedEx charge, you just call on a service for help and give it some information and it goes out on the Internet, gets the numbers, and brings them back into the spreadsheet.
Will the expansion into new markets boost Office's growth?
With every version we ask ourselves: Did we innovate enough that we're really going to drive that excitement? This one will meet that bar very well. It will also meet that bar at a time when corporations feel they have too many software vendors, and they've let too much complexity come in, and they're scrutinizing all information-technology spending. Because of what we've done here with Office, I think the Office business will continue to be a great, profitable, high-volume business.