Although it may be premature for IT shops to rip out their existing hardware and software, each week the trend toward rentable Web-based applications gains momentum. And while productivity-application giant Microsoft weighs its options in the application-rental arena, startups are already making the case for the virtual desktop.
Microsoft's rent-an-application efforts will begin in the consumer and the small business arenas before the company offers them more broadly. While com-pany officials would not elaborate on timing, Microsoft Office 2000 will be available to small businesses through the company's bCentral Web site, which is about to go into beta testing. The initiative is part of Microsoft's expansion of its MSN portal site into an "Everyday Web" offering, which it hopes will become a one-stop site for Internet users.
Microsoft's hosting efforts are likely to become more focused, with the expected announcement of an alliance with outsourcer USWeb/CKS.
The bCentral portal - which will offer products and services to small businesses - will act as a trial run before Microsoft offers rentals to large corporations.
"We will be adding Office services and Exchange services, and those things will have a price that reflects the value we are currently delivering to our customers," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's president, in Redmond, Washington. "Instead of getting new [software] releases every N years, you get new releases continuously," he said.
"You will move to the world of no management. Now you have your software with you [on a PC], but you can live out in the cloud of the Internet."