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Outlook Web Access and ... Hello Kitty?

OWA as the mother of Web applications

Anybody who knows me or a member of my editorial team can’t escape hearing how much we suffer as unwilling users of Lotus Notes. In particular, Lotus Web Mail is so painful that a lot of us have given up in disgust and simply avoid it. So you can imagine that I felt particularly grumpy about Lotus when I received a press release yesterday informing me that Outlook Web Access (OWA) is celebrating its tenth year “as a catalyst for Microsoft’s Web evolution since its inception.”

            While it’s interesting to consider OWA as a pioneer in software as a service (SaaS) and as having “spawned new technologies like AJAX,” I could only feel victimized by Lotus, the technology that arguably spawned Outlook. But then I started thinking about why Microsoft would send out a press release touting OWA as the product that “paved the way for Microsoft’s software plus services model” and why the company would use OWA’s tenth anniversary as the impetus for talking about this. I wondered what Microsoft was really trying to accomplish with this odd celebration. When I got to the end of the press release and saw a bullet point about Hello Kitty, I wondered if somebody had slipped something more sinister than caffeine into my coffee this morning.

            Is it just me, or does this announcement seem kind of defensive on Microsoft’s part? I feel like Microsoft was looking for a way to tell the world that they are not behind Google in understanding the value of Web applications. They seem to be saying, “Hey! We’ve been doing Web apps for 10 years! We’re not behind our competition!”



Congratulations on 10 Years of OWA

My job is to be objective about Microsoft’s products, and OWA is a product that I’ve used successfully and painlessly in the past (and look forward to using again soon, when my company’s new IT department finishes migrating us to Exchange and Outlook 2007). My experience with OWA stands in contrast to experience with Lotus Web Mail, which I’ve seen as most unpleasant and unproductive. If I see something to celebrate, it’s the quality of Microsoft’s product in contrast to competing offerings.

            Anyway, here’s Microsoft’s list of “significant milestones in the evolution of OWA, particularly as it has paved the way for Microsoft’s software plus services model.” (Don’t ask me how Hello Kitty fits into that paving operation!)

  1. OWA was introduced May 23, 1997

  2. Originally dubbed “Exchange Web Client,” OWA was the first web email client produced by Microsoft—in Exchange 5.5

  3. OWA was the first step in what has now become a new way of building web applications

  4. OWA spawned AJAX, which is a popular Web 2.0 technology and is now used in IE and other popular web browsers; XMLHTTP changed everything.  It put the "D" in DHTML.

  5. Exchange, Outlook and OWA are Microsoft’s software + services strategy in action today

  6. Outlook + OWA gives customers a choice of how they access their information using the familiar Outlook interface

  7. The first DHTML prototype for OWA was written on top of a pre-beta version of IE5

  8. Each version of OWA continues to make huge strides in technology and the user interface experience.  You can see OWA2007 demos on which list lots of new features.

  9. As OWA turns 10, there is an install base of more than 135 million people who have the technology with Exchange Server; that installed base is predicted to will increase from 135 million in 2007 to 233 million in 2011.  This represents an average annual growth rate of 15%  (Radicati 2007)

  10. April Fools!  The OWA team knows how to have fun and one of their more humorous moments was when they unveiled OWA 2003—the team decided to show off the features on April 1st and developed a Hello Kitty theme, so as the Microsoft team logged on, they had a Hello Kitty UI set as their default theme. It provided good laughs while also demonstrating the customization capabilities of the service, which is something customers continue to derive great value from. 

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