eWeek has a good analysis of office apps that links into a deeper look at Office 2007 Beta 2. Having installed and played with Beta 2 on a Vista machine I do agree that MS will have a long upgrade cycle. Most people that should use Office, certainly in the US, already have it. Therefore, given the high cost, Office upgrades will likely be tied to PC upgrades. Further, I expect Enterprise Agreement (EA) customers to push back on Office upgrades due to the potential helpdesk hit. The new user experience is neat but there are many incompatibilities with Office 2003, which will be a problem. I’ve used Word since v3.0 on DOS and it took me 15+ seconds to figure out how to zoom a page. Not good.
Does this mean that non-MS alternatives have an opportunity to increase market share? Not in a meaningful way in the US due to market saturation. Rest of the world is a different story–too complex to unravel in this post. I’m especially negative on Web-based tools as replacements for MS Office in enterprises for the following reasons:
- Quality: the ones I’ve used tend to be buggy.
- Reliability: because of the way browser processes are handled by the OS, when your browser crashes you can loose your work.
- Connectivity: AJAX apps haven’t figured out how to deal with occasionally-connected scenarios. It is bizzarre how long it has taken the world to learn from Lotus Notes (and Groove) about the power of auto-synchronization and the ability to work on- and off-line. This is especially important for business travellers.
- Security: to handle loosely-connected scenarios you need local storage, which requires appropriate handling of security. This gives an edge to Flash-based applications (compared to DHTML apps), both of which use AJAX to communicate with servers. Flash has some local storage capabilities. You can do local storage directly from the browser scripts but you need applets or ActiveX controls that will generate security pop-ups, etc. (What’s old is new. I built an app like that back in 1998 using WDDX and the MS file access ActiveX controls.)
Strangely enough, the criteria above suggest that MS has a chance to solve the on-demand office app problem better than anyone else. They have Ray Ozzie of Notes & Groove fame. They have control of the OS & browser, which would allow them to solve the connectivity & security issues transparently.
I’m all for simpler, on-demand productivity apps for the home but the enterprise will go with MS for a while longer.