But many of the IT managers at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference held here this week don't think much of online collaborative services in general, whether they are from Google Inc., Microsoft or anyplace else for that matter.
This week, Microsoft said it will expand its online collaboration services for companies of all sizes later this year.
By the same token, Google last week released Google Sites, an add-on to its Google Apps collaborative suite, which gives the software something of an organizing framework, thus making it more like SharePoint.
Following his keynote, Gates said he believed that although it's good for there to be choice in the market, Google doesn't understand the special needs of business customers.
"For most Google products, the day [Google] announces them is their best day," Gates said, referring to the fact that enterprises may not be quickly adopting the services despite the market attention.
Conventional thinking among IT managers is that Google is pushing Microsoft to offer these subscription services. To many, however, hosted services remain anathema to a mainstream corporate computing philosophy.
"We stay away from the ASP [application service provider] model, and that's what this is," said Richard Miller, an IT manager at ConAgra Foods Inc., the Omaha, Neb.-based food, agricultural and feed company. "I don't see us going down that route in the near future, though it's great for small or medium-sized companies."
But even many small companies continue to shun the idea. "I would be amenable to change before my company ever would," said Robert Walters, information services project manager at Hilmar Cheese Co., a Hilmar, Calif., company that makes cheese for large food processors such as Kraft or customers like Taco Bell.
Walters has carefully managed the installation of SharePoint sites across his company, providing training for groups that want their own site. Using SharePoint he has managed $350,000 worth of projects for only $25,000.
John Betz, director of business online services at Microsoft, said he sees the services appealing to companies where there is an IT generalist, and outsourcing can relieve that person's workload. One of the advantages the services will have over applications run on customer premises will come from the investment Microsoft is making in security and reliability of its data centers, he said.
Most IT managers did not come to the conference to drown in angst over the decision of hosting versus installing SharePoint on the premises. Rather, they came to the show to learn how to manage SharePoint sites throughout their companies and how to best migrate to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 from Windows SharePoint Services (WSS).
At one Nevada-based manufacturer of computerized gaming equipment, a software developer who declined to be identified, is hoping to migrate from WSS to MOSS, as well as do some specialized development in SharePoint.
"MOSS has a business data catalog feature that we would like to integrate with our SAP installation," he said.
MOSS already accounts for $1 billion in sales for Microsoft. Gates said he expects to have sold 100 million licenses by July 2008.