The Impending Death Of Microsoft Office

Okay, maybe “death” is a bit severe.  But certainly, I think in the next few years (if not months), Office will start to lose marketshare…significantly.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love Office (okay, not really, but I work with it on a daily basis and the whole product strategy for my group revolves around the Office client and server suite), but there are some severe usability issues which have, amazingly, to this day, been pretty much unresolved.

The crux of the shortcomings of Office (aside from interoperability pre-12) is really document sharing.

Today, in the Office world, if you want to share documents (either with yourself (i.e. work on a different machine) or others), you really only have a few options:

  1. You can access your desktop remotely using a remote desktop client.  This sucks for a variety of reasons including responsiveness and the require setup to enable a remote access scenario.  It may not even be possible due to corporate firewalls.
  2. Email the document to yourself and/or collaborators.  This is what most people do today, I would gather.  It’s one of the most annoying things that I deal with because I end up with a folder with a bunch of documents title “Spec rev.1”, “Spec rev.2” and so on.  Not to mention what the clusterfuck that happens if I modify the document and rename it with “rev.X” and another collaborator does the same.  It sucks…but even I’ve been known to do this.
  3. Copy the document to a physical medium and pass it around.  This includes CDs, USB drives, external drives, etc.  I do this quite often when I travel and I know I will need to prepare a document.  But it sucks.
  4. Use a corporate SharePoint site to share your document.  This is a great solution…if your company has a SharePoint site.  What if you’re not a full Microsoft shop?  What if you work for a small company?  It also means you’ll probably need VPN access, which is generally annoying.  For the record, I’ve been using Office personally and professionally for more than 10 years now and I’ve never shared a document using this method.
  5. Use Office Live!  This is a relatively new offering from Microsoft who finally realized “Hey, maybe the rest of the non-corporate world would also like to share documents in a non-shitty way!” However, what sucks about this is that you still need to have the Office client…we’ll touch on this point in a bit.
  6. Use some sort of remote file share (FTP location, network file share, etc.).  This has various perils as well in addition to the inconvenience of having to have a VPN connection.

None of these options are really appealing, but until recently, there really wasn’t a choice.  Regardless of what desktop processor you use, you’re pretty much constrained to the same set of options (you can replace SharePoint with whatever web platform your client integrates with).

This sucks, for the reasons listed above, but it also sucks because it means that you have to lug around your laptop everywhere you go to work on documents.  It’s the reason why you see business people scrunched up in coach, contorting their bodies and praying that the person in front doesn’t put their seat back so they can fold out their laptop.  The desktop document processor client makes us all slaves.

But the future is coming.  For personal use, I don’t think I’ll ever author another Word document in Office ever again.  Both Google Docs and Zoho offer what I need so far as basic document processing goes and I have the added convenience of being able to easily share documents with others.  There’s also the absolute coolness of being able to edit the same document in a live session with your collaborators.  This alone is not enough to change how we work with documents.  The iPhone and the impending release of Android (along with the next generatin of smart phones) will leave the Office stack in the dust.

Connectivity is ever increasing. With cheap, unlimited data plans now and non-neutered mobile browsers, instead of doing the stupid shit listed above, you can just connect to Google Docs or Zoho and edit your documents directly. You can share your documents without having to have a SharePoint deployment (good for small business and non-Microsoft solutions deployments). You can have access to your documents from anywhere where you have a cell or WiFi connection (which for most business people, is everywhere).

Why bust out your laptop on a crowded plane (unless you have the luxury of sitting in business class) to review or make small edits to a document when you can do it on your wifi connected phone? Why lug your laptop around when 90% of the functionality that you need for day to day business can be accomplished on a phone? Android and the next generation of smartphones will cause a big shift in document processor usage in time, IMO. Microsoft has to start thinking heavily about a web based Office suite (or purchasing Zoho) or else they’ll start losing ground in their bread and butter application suite.

For the time being, both Zoho and Google Docs are missing some core bits (mostly around security, but also integration of more complex “compound content”), but for a good percentage of document processing needs, Office has become irrelevant (this is not to say that it won’t take a really, really, really long time before Office loses market share to any web based processor).

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1 Response

  1. Andy Foreman says:

    I liked reading your post and I do agree with virtually everything you had to say, and the facts that you pointed out are all valid. But you also missed a big "side" of the issue with Office – thats the developer side stuff.

    Now I dont mean the Stanford Magna Cum Laude graduate in Compute Science developer side – I mean the millions of average developers out there who are pretty good at things like VBA, a couple database systems, etc. The people who "do" other jobs, but need at times to program things. These folks have come to love VBA and as a consultant who serves many of them, let me assure you that some of my bigger clients are already scrambling to find an Office replacement. Why?

    Simple answers: First, VSTO. Its horrible to work with, very poorly documented, the web has some "help" out there but no where near enough, and many of those providing "help" in fact, provide nothing more than links to links, where more links eventually take you to nowhere.

    The problem is also more systemic – Microsoft LOVES complexity and for people like my clients, CPAs, Actuaries, Beneficiary managers, etc – these people HATE complexity. When Excel and Word could be driven by VBA it was a tough learning curve for lots of them, but they made it – now looking at VSTO, well, as I had one client say to me; "Why would I spend weeks to get a simple spreadsheet done, when I used to be able to do it in an hour or so?"

    Its also worth pointing out that 95% of my clients (over 100 of them) are NOT going to Office 2007 and in fact, most hate it. Its ugly, they hate the ribbon, and they hate that there was NO need to change the interface, but MS just does these things and only wakes up when it flops later (think Windows Vista). Worse, those technical enough to understand the underlying file format has changed seem to believe thats all that Office 2007 was about – allowing MS to have the XML standard by once again shoving something down the marketplaces throat and hoping they will swallow it.

    For me, as a former developer and now management consultant, I am just stunned, absolutely stunned at how Microsoft has well, screwed itself. They just dont seem to understand that small and medium businesses are out there by the thousands and they are getting tired of lousy support, horrible documentation, vacuous new "features", and endless happy-rubbing between bloggers who all turn out to be Microsoft employees or consultants. (As though their happy blogging is going to fool us all into buying MS Office no matter what it is…)

    Amazing really – back about 20 years ago Microsoft had it all – good products, well scaled, good support, and populated by people who seemed to care about end-users. Now? Bloated products that look horrible, dont work, are horribly documented, support that doesnt support, and worst of the worst – a generation of young people who seem to adore complexity where simplicity would more than do the job.

    I have often wondered if the techies in Redmond clean their fingernails with a backhoe. Sure, the rest of the world uses a simple nail file – but Redmond seems to love power and complexity…

    …of course, try cleaning your nails with a backhoe and then tell me which is more efficient…

    Simplicity or Complexity simply for the sake of being complex. Answer should be obvious, but Microsoft continues to try to turn this on its head – and I think this spells only one thing…

    The end of Microsoft’s products and soon, MS itself. I would speculate what MS will have on its tombstone, but then, a tombstone is too simple and effective for Microsoft, so I am sure they will have some 50,000 foot digital display saying "Here lies Microsoft: we never did anything the easy way".