by C.G. Lynch

Office 14: The Horror Sequel Coming to a Browser Near You

Oct 31, 20084 mins
Enterprise Applications

Windows 7. Office 14. Microsoft should start doing all its product launches on Halloween, because they’re starting sound an awful lot like horror movie sequels.

Of course, Office 14, Microsoft’s proposed Web-based competitor to Google Apps and Zoho, doesn’t really come out until late 2009, so we’ll have to buy our tickets in advance and wait to see how that one turns out. (And if you thought the $10 you paid at the theater of that last horror movie was egregious, just wait and see the circa 1990s IT pricing model they’re likely to come up with for this one). 

Here’s the script I’d pen for the preview: (cue the dramatic Hollywood voice over):

“Coming to a browser near you. Just when you thought the Web put an end to overpriced bloated software, HE came to collect…”

On camera, an IT manager pulls up Microsoft Office on his Web-browser. He smiles, and clicks on the Office icon, but then a shudder of fear overcomes his face. A field for credit card information pops up. The message beside it: Get More From Web Office 14 by buying Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, The Frankenapp, starting at only $100,000!  

Voice over returns:

“Office, along with his grotesque cousin Frankenapp Sharepoint, returns for this sequel of epic proportions in Office 14: Nightmare in Redmond. Step aside Google, you SaaSy sissy. Office and Software Plus Services is going drop you from your fluffy little clouds like a sack of bad servers. Consider yourself right-click, deleted. The Web and software, as we know it, will never be the same….Rated PG-13.”

The fact we’ve waited this long (and will wait longer) for a fully Web-based Microsoft Office speaks to just how much Microsoft still owns the market on productivity applications (every known study for market penetration puts them in the 90-something percentile). Nearly two years since Google Docs & Spreadsheets became available (for free), Microsoft decided to tell consumers and businesses that a similar product, which they say will be way better, will be available by the end of 2009.

In technology terms, it’s important to step back and note how astonishing that is: by then, Microsoft will be three years late to market. I mean, wow. For all this talk about a paradigm shift in computing, as evinced by the success of and other SaaS-based companies, Microsoft, through brute force and adamant refusals, has been able to drag the heels of an entire market of applications used by a huge cross-section of professionals, students and regular individuals.

Microsoft essentially said: Yes, you will, keep buying the discs at Best Buy and installing the software. We’re not ready for the Web. It doesn’t suit us. 

As a writer, I like Microsoft Word. I grew up with it. But I bailed about a year ago after coming to the obvious conclusion that I spend my entire day in a browser, and toggling to a desktop app (that, in my opinion, slows up my computer) didn’t make sense. So I have been using Google Docs. It’s sparser, and Google would admit that, but I can’t think of one time I’ve needed something in there that I had to retreat to Word in order to find. 

I would consider going back to Word if the browser-based version really ends up blowing me away in terms of design and speed. It better be good, really good, just out of principle. Not only because I’m angry that a company that made a great product for years (I grew up on Office) decided that, to suit its stock price, they’d wait as a long as possible to catch up with where I do the majority of my work — on the browser, NOT on the desktop. It’s tantamount to a huge slap in the face.

It also has to be cheap (I’d prefer free with ads, but one step at a time here). This notion that you can continue to have a high margin, high profit business on software like Word just doesn’t work. These tools are commodities, and the urge for me to pay a ton of money for a piece of software because it has more features doesn’t hold up unless I actually use said features. There’s only so much innovation that can occur around a word processor and spreadsheets (and what innovation is left probably will center around integration with other Web applications).

The desktop version of Office will always have a place. Your accountants and financial analysts need Excel, for example. But I hope Microsoft 14 will be a different sort of sequel, where maybe the actors names don’t change, but at least the ending doesn’t leave you uttering the phrase, “ah, not again.”