John Brandon

Windows 7, Office 14 to create bigger lame ducks than George W. Bush

By John Brandon
October 28, 2008 4:49 PM EDT
In roughly the same week, Microsoft will be creating the most incredible lame ducks in the history of computing and, a week later to the day, either John McCain or Barrack Obama will turn George W. into a president with absolutely nothing to do until he retires in January. It's a frightening concept, really.

With announcements this week, Microsoft has done the same thing -- except that they have lame ducked their very own products. Would anyone really buy Windows Vista, or do a mass deployment of it in the enterprise, now that we know Windows 7 is essentially the same thing -- and I mean, the interface looks indistinguishable to me -- with a leaner code base and better driver support? I doubt it.

And don't even get me started on Office 14, announced this week as well. It's the browser-enabled version of the massively dominate productivity suite. Honestly, if I was a data center manager or an IT guru at, say, Wal-Mart, I'd be curled up in a corner right now, trying really hard not to think about deployment strategies.

Imagine this: you have several hundred knowledge workers in your company who are basically on the Web all day. They are using Office 11 (aka, Office 2003). They have been asking you for over a year to install Office 12 (aka, Office 2007). They are desktop bound, but craving Web freedom. (Update: Microsoft is skipping the Office 13 version.)

Now you have a decision to make. You now know that Word and Excel will work in a browser some time in 2009 (along with PowerPoint and OneNote). Do you skip Office 2007 altogether? Do you think the black art of Vista is going to work well with Office 14 on the Web, or do you figure you had better wait for Windows 7? Or do you just weep silently to yourself?

I think the best strategy this week is to put on a Halloween mask and go hide under a rock somewhere. Worse, MSFT plans to offer mobile versions of Office 14 that are not just readers -- they will be fully functional versions.

Meanwhile, let's say you are ThinkFree or Zoho, or maybe Google -- or even Yahoo. The company that owns productivity in the workplace and at home (also known as: everywhere in the world) is now ready to offer full-featured versions of their incredibly dominant tools as online versions. It would be enough to make a grown CEO ball like a baby.

Amazingly, Google stock has risen on the news from PDC this week. Microsoft stock has risen almost 10% today as well. (Since a rising tide lifts all boats, even Yahoo stock is going north today. Wow.)

Now, throw in the new Microsoft cloud platform, announced yesterday. It's a pretty big day for the company, sans Bill Gates. Apparently it is okay to take over the world again.

But here's my question: is this where the rest of the world is heading? As a Web 2.0 blogger, I have to wonder. Massive roll-outs of browser-enabled word processing, seemingly incremental operating system upgrades, cloud platforms that fit nicely into your development cycles: they are all great to see and could stimulate the economy, but I dare to say they are too late. I think many of us have moved on. We are on the Web, using small applets. We now do our work on the iPhone, MacBooks, and tools like Basecamp HQ and Picnik, not on $500 software programs and tiered operating systems.

It all seems like a battle royale, but I have to wonder if the end-user and typical corporate worker wants small useful apps, not software overlords. I guess we'll find out.