Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The breaking news that didn’t make it to the headlines – End of the PC era

Last day of October, one small article appeared on the cNet News: Office Live almost out of the gate. I am afraid that mainstream media didn’t quite realize its real significance and implications.

A Forced Move

Anticipating Google's moves in the area of web based applications (Google Apps for Your Domain, but also and mainly Google Docs & Spreadsheets), Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker, has responded by introducing Microsoft Office Live -Web-based software for “small business and consumers”. By this move, Microsoft is starting to fight against its own core cash-cow products. And this is really unique in its history.

Cannibalizing its own cash-cow

At first, Office Live is cannibalizing its Exchange Server right now. At second, the longer-term consequences of this step will make the entire MS Office, which is the most important cash generating product for Microsoft, obsolete. Although Microsoft is trying to underplay its move and underlines that Microsoft Office Live is not intended as replacement of MS Office, but as an additional tool for “small business and consumers”, the reality will soon show up.

The Purpose of Documents

Let us forget marketing for now and be blindly honest in describing why documents exist: every document is created to be processed (read, edited, reviewed, approved...) by other people. That’s it. There is no one simple document which was created just with the purpose to be stored somewhere on the PC.

But only now the second part of our observation comes: there is currently no better platform to accomplish this purpose than the web. Web based applications are inherently better suited for information exchange than any PC-based, or PC-centric solution. Web based applications are not better for formatting documents or printing them, but they don’t need to be. They don’t need to compete with desktop apps in the same arena. Instead, they can use their real competitive advantage and realize the real purpose, why documents were created. They can help people to increase their productivity and effectiveness by allowing them an easier and more straightforward communication.

The Funny World of Today

It will not take long and today’s world and our present-day document practices will sound very funny. Imagine that we need to tell somebody important information today. At first, we write it on our computer, then we print it, then we insert it into an envelope and send it by mail, fax, or messenger, then the recipient reads it and takes notes to his own computer. Is this really the best way how computers should be utilized?

The Funny World of Email and Millions of Copies

OK, you say, “go on, we have the email today!” But that is just slightly better. Document must be saved to local disc first, then send as an attachment to the recipient, then saved by the recipient to his local disk, then the recipient makes his comments and remarks and saves the modified document on his computer (if he is smart, he chooses a different name), then he sends the revised file to a third person to his revision or approval, the third person sends it back to all of us... Well, at the end of the day we end up having tens of copies of different versions of the same file across several dozens computers of our firm, including several slightly differing copies on our own PC. Yes, I am aware of the “Version” function of today’s word processors. But for good reasons (we all are aware of) it is not a good practice to delete the original file when we receive a newer version...

End of the PC era

The conclusion is simple and straightforward. The PC paradigm is not a suitable platform for collaboration of people. At the onset of the mainstream mass internet, the document storage and processing paradigm should be revised from the ground up.

Don’t be confused by the fact that Office Live is marketed only to small and medium companies. The truth is that even big corporations do need to work with documents effectively.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article is very nicely describing typical collaboration problems of today that I have been observing for a long time in my company. In my industry (architecture, engineering and construction), there is a number of collaboration or extranet solutions; however they are not deployed as frequently as they could be, the main reason is probably strong resistance to change. Hopefully, when major players like Microsoft or Google will come up with their own product, this platform will become more widely used to everybody's benefit.


6:54 PM  
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