Microsoft on Wednesday gave a gift to Facebook users: the ability to create and share Microsoft Office documents through Docs for Facebook. The actual announcement came from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's f8 developer conference in San Francisco, a sign that Microsoft and Facebook remain united in their opposition of Google.
Although Microsoft does not specifically mention Google Docs, Word's most prominent challenger, Google's online document creation and collaboration tool clearly weighs heavily on the minds of Microsoft managers. "There are other services out there that let you create and collaborate on documents," concedes Pat Kinsel.
A program manager at Microsoft's Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs, in an online summary. "And there are others that support sharing, discussing and discovering documents. But what makes Docs special is it's the only service that supports the complete document lifecycle."
Docs for Facebook, now in public beta, was built on the Facebook platform using Microsoft's forthcoming Office 2010 Web technology. It's goal is to bring the simplicity of Facebook's sharing system -- news feeds and activity streams -- to Word files, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations.
In a phone interview, Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs, stressed that Docs was designed around how Facebook users shared documents. Document sharing, she said, has tended to be quite complex and Docs aims to remedy that.
Users can create, view, edit, and share Office documents through Docs.com, at no charge. They can also use Microsoft Office as an editing environment, if they need a more sophisticated set of tools and options.
Were the feature set the same, the incentive to purchase Office would be significantly diminished. Cheng said that the goal was not to compete with Office. She also said it was too early to tell whether Docs would be made accessible using authentication systems other than Facebook, such as Windows Live.
One goal of Docs appears to be exposing young Facebook users to Office and the concept of software in a box that can be bought at a store. Cheng suggested that there's a generation of people who have grown up on the Web who might not be familiar with Office.Think of Docs for Facebook as the gateway drug to Office 2010.