About a year ago, Microsoft introduced the idea of something called .Net My Services -- an ill-defined collection of sort-of-business-related online services. Customers didn't bite.
Now, CNet says, Microsoft is planning to incorporate My Services into its next version of Office, its near-monopoly application bundle. (You know: Word, Excel, Powerpoint.) The company tried something similar in the current version of Office, Office XP (not to be confused with Windows XP, which is an operating system and not application software -- as if Microsoft wanted you to be able to tell them apart).
Office XP has something called Smart Tags, an interesting innovation that actually gives you a lot of control over how your text is formatted. But the initial release of Smart Tags let Microsoft do things like take an address and send it to a Microsoft-owned web site that could map it, or take an e-mail address and with one click automatically link to a Microsoft-owned e-mail service. Supposedly, any vendor could write code that would send users to their own site, but guess which company had their hard-wired?
Anyway, there were predictable screams and Microsoft backed off that particular application of Smart Tags. It now looks like they'll be back for another pass.
And speaking of nefarious, Microsoft is also in the midst of rejiggering the way it licenses software to big companies. Apparently, many companies will see their software costs jump, and an important deadline is looming. This is why Sun Microsystems has released a paid (read: supported) version of its Office-compatible application package StarOffice.
StarOffice had been free, but without manuals or real support. Corporations have a hard time dealing with free software -- and with reason. If you build your business around a piece of software, it's important to know a) who it's from, b) that it'll be around tomorrow. Sun's charging even the nominal $79 indicates that StarOffice may actually become a business -- and apparently, clients are sniffing around. It'll be interesting to see what happens.