Everyone seems to be gabbing about the “cloud” these days. Whether it’s Apple’s much-hyped iCloud service or the Amazon Cloud, the now-popular euphemism for web-based software services has become one of the tech world’s biggest buzz words. Microsoft joined in on the action today by unveiling a revamped web-based version of its popular Office suite of business software. But Microsoft’s main target here is not Apple or Amazon, but Google, which has stolen some of the software maker’s corporate customers in recent years with cheap, web-only alternatives.
With Office 365, customers will be able to access familiar applications such as Outlook email, Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint collaboration tools beyond the desktop on a variety of different devices wherever there is an Internet connection. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer touted the service’s online format and built-in conferencing tools as especially good for small and medium-sized businesses looking to save money. Microsoft has offered online versions of some of Outlook and some other applications to corporate clients for years, but increased competition seems to have spurred Microsoft’s latest push into the cloud.
Google is praised for doing many things right, but social networking is not widely regarded as one of them. Co-founder and CEO Larry Page, who took over the helm from now-Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in April, has made it clear that he hopes to change that. The Web giant trotted out its latest and most extensive foray into social networking with Google+, a new social service that aims to compete with Facebook by bundling together all of its its online properties into one platform. Google+ is an attempt to move past former flops such as Google Wave and Google Buzz.
The site, which is now available for testing to a select group of Google users, has already elicited comparisons to Facebook in that it lets people share and comment on photos and links and update their status. So, what sets it apart from Facebook? “For us, privacy isn’t buried six panels deep,” Google VP of Product Management Bradley Horowitz told Reuters, without specifically referring to Facebook.
In other social tech news, online gaming company Zynga is planning on raising up to $2 billion in an initial public offering and could file paperwork to get the process underway as soon as Wednesday, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Tuesday. Zynga, which is behind popular Facebook games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars, would be the latest in a string of social media companies to go public in recent months as equity markets have rebounded.