Are web versions of Microsoft Office a niche?

by admin on August 29, 2006

in General

Captain Agile And Fubar-Cc Rod Boothby-2006 Part 2-01

The Blogerati have spoken. Among them, Rod Boothy thinks that Web versions of Microsoft Office represents a tiny niche. I like Rod. He’s a smart guy. He does a nifty line in cartoons to get over tough topics. Heck, he and I are slated to crank out a joint paper on Financial Reporting and Wiki for the Office 2.0 Conference. Sorry Rod – gonna call you on this one but with a caveat. Not because I think the argument is wrong per se but because I think the approach fails to recognise a few end user realities.

Why is anyone making the comparison? Your article or rather the diagrams don’t represent anything different from what we’ve seen go on inside business for years. Ad hoc spreadsheets, variable document formats non-one can explain and so on. Tools to be used as and when required in whatever way the user decides? It’s one of the reasons I get hot under the collar about spreads used in finance departments.

Supporting MS Office costs real money – right? So why would I add in Excel Services (for example) unless there is a significant productivity enhancement? Is it because it gives me the best of online/offline? Is that the only benefit? When Niel (was it?) produced the spreadsheet for the SAPPHIRE bloggers coverage etc, what did all those who received the email have to do? Download. I made the spread publicly available with Zoho (it’s not perfect but hey – what I needed to see was there) – no download, no client side app, no cost, simply one click access. Guess a few folk missed that -:)

Word version control is a freaking nightmare – right? I’ve been using Writely as a way of creating WIP documents for 6 months. The only barrier is getting folk to understand a login. Beats the crap out of documents shared/stored in Groove. A wiki would be better for version control but at the end of the day whether it is Writely, Zoho or wiki, it is still a word processing style app. So doesn’t that render Word largely irrelevant for any situation where collaboration is required (and quite a few where it isn’t)?

Saying those who are building AJAX (tech doen’t matter to end users but…) ‘versions’ of Word/Excel is a waste of resource doesn’t mesh with the kind of work Dan Bricklin is doing with ST where there is clear advantage. SocialText is improving and online wikis like Wetpaint are looking increasingly like wordprocessing applications to me only more relevant to my needs.

That means if I want to be serious about sharing (the basis for learning as we do here?) then I HAVE to compare what I can reasonably do with Office against the same service based apps you’re promoting. The difference is that most of the online services are an order of magnitude less difficult to learn than Office – which is made even more difficult by the introduction of things like the Ribbon etc.

And to say there are no enterprise examples of new tech in this space is not true. DrKW is the flagship case for SocialText and it would be fab if JP Rangaswami came over to explain what that’s done. If we’re talking Office – he claims 75% reduction in email. We need more examples that’s true. (Hey Ross – anymore out there?) So if email is part of Office then replacement IS on the agenda.

I believe most of us are arguing this on the wrong grounds. Forget technology, think efficiency. Many of us have talked collaboration in one for or another for years but didn’t have the tools with which to make the dream come true. Now we do. If that means we talk Office replacement than why not if the fit makes sense? That doesn’t render Office totally irrelevant but it seriously questions its utility under current pricing models, capability and learning curves.

The one caveat I have is adoption. We’ve not figured out how to convince CXOs about value compared to existing. We only have isolated examples. Those same CXOs have massively invested and have to justify. Why do we say ‘add cost’ (a la Excel Services) when we could say something different, even if it is radical?

I say all of this because I made the decision to switch to Mac at the beginning of the year after 24 years of Wintel and 2 failed IBM laptops in 18 months that hung me out to dry at critical times. The only way I can see to remain productive in any circumstances is to trust in online services. As long as I can get and do what I need, I really don’t care whether it is MSFT or the Man In The Moon who provides. So if this Mac falls over tomorrow, provided I can get access through some sort of device to my online whatever, I remain in business. That seems a pretty powerful argument. Bottom line – I’m not worried any longer about access to data or the ability to complete business processes.

In conclusion – is there anything wrong with facing this square on and taking a play from Larry Ellison’s book by saying: “Hey guys, we’re really sorry. We’ve been selling you the wrong stuff for years. But we can fix it?” And just who was it who said something like: “There’ll only ever be four computers i the world?”

Rant over.

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vinnie mirchandani August 29, 2006 at 1:39 pm

I guess they have not seen the "Imagine" motto of the Office 2.0 conferennce…

Imagine a computer that never crashes, or gets infected by a virus. Imagine a computer onto which you never have to install any application. Imagine a computer that follows you wherever you go, be it at school, at work, abroad, or back home. This computer does not exist today, but it will in the future, and this future might be much closer than you think

Jason Stamper August 29, 2006 at 5:45 pm

I am mostly on your side in this debate, Dennis. Indeed I would argue that while you say, "The one caveat I have is adoption", you should not forget the pressure that business users are likely to start to put on their CXOs to deliver the same kind of online collaborative technologies in their workplace that they have become used to at home. Once people get used to Web 2.0 style capabilities in their daily lives, they will wonder why they can't get that kind of collaboration and flexibility at work too.
I am convinced that much of the pull for 'enterprise search' technologies like Autonomy, Google Enterprise and FAST came from users saying to IT: "why can't I search our enterprise assets, when I can search the entire web in a milisecond?'
Like you, I also see a lot of value in more and more of my 'applications' being online services, and I think enterprises too will soon begin to wake up to the benefits for many usage scenarios.
BUT I also think there will always be a place for good old fashioned client-server applications to meet a different set of usage requirements. The hegemony of the existing vendors will also help to ensure that that is the case for many years to come ;-)

JP August 29, 2006 at 11:53 pm

Hi Dennis, wish I could come to the conference, but circumstances militate against me. By the way, the 75% cut in e-mail is out of context. One department cut their e-mail by that much with respect to one particular use of e-mail, admittedly a high-volume use.

I've also been looking at Zoho with interest. I look forward to your comments on it. More later. And hi to Vinnie.

Cliff August 30, 2006 at 9:59 am

I invite you to take a look at EditGrid as well.

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