There are lots of projects intended to move our computing lives online. Let me try to paint a picture of where our world is heading over the next 5-10 years. I’ll use Microsoft projects as examples but keep in mind that other companies have similar projects and goals.

Start with hundreds of thousands of high-powered servers all over the world, run by big companies, providing storage space and computing power to do interesting things. Amazon and Google are already in that business, and one of Microsoft’s big announcements at last week’s conference was that it intends to commit the future of the company to providing services from its own global network. Assume that the companies are doing what it takes to convince you that they have the resources to keep things safe and working at full speed.

Take a step forward from where we are now (a small step, really) and imagine that when you click on File / Open in Microsoft Word and see a list of the files in your Documents folder, you’re seeing a list that is the same regardless of where you’re sitting or what computer you’re using. Your documents are listed when you’re at your desk, but the same list appears when you’re at a friend’s house or at an Internet cafe in Paris. You don’t give that a second thought – you expect it to happen and it works.

Well, it doesn’t work yet but you might be surprised at how many steps you can take right now toward that goal.

  • You can store documents in Office Live Workspace; on your own computer you can open them from within Word after installing a little plugin, and from any other computer you can access them in a browser and open them in Word if it’s installed on that computer.
  • If you set up Live Mesh, you can have local copies of your documents on all the computers you use regularly, appearing in your Documents folder when you click File / Open in Word, plus you can access the same files online by logging onto the Live Mesh website.

Those services are still in their early stages of development and will become easier to use. I have some criticisms of the way some Office Live Workspace features are designed and those will be addressed, but I’ve also seen references to the likelihood that Live Mesh folders will be accessible in Office Live Workspace and you’ll just have to trust me – that moves us a huge step closer to that picture I painted up there of universal, easy access to your files from anywhere.

The bigger picture goes far beyond the basic ability to store files online – there are lots of ways already available to store documents online. The future lies in whether you can create and edit your files from any device.

So let’s add one more element. Microsoft announced that you’ll be able to use online versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote to work on your files if you’re sitting at a computer where those programs are not installed. There are many, many details to be worked out about price, features (these will start out as “light” versions of the programs), and integration with your online files, but the concept immediately makes sense. Here’s a screen shot of Word running in Internet Explorer – click through for shots of other programs:


Imagine that the experience of using Microsoft Word is identical regardless of whether you’re using the copy installed on your computer or the online version, and you can open the same files regardless of where you’re sitting. Under the hood, let’s say Microsoft has done the heavy lifting to ensure that security precautions are observed for businesses. Interested yet?

Let’s stop there for today. Tomorrow we’ll take that a step further and try to understand just how wildly ambitious the plans are that Microsoft outlined last week.

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