I don't know if you've noticed, but Microsoft Office is pretty tired. All of its elements are old and boring. PowerPoint, except for the addition of a few templates, has never fulfilled its promise. Microsoft never seriously jazzed it up and a PowerPoint presentation from a decade ago barely differs from a PowerPoint presentation made today.
The rest of the suite elements are just as bad, if not worse. The two Microsoft Word breakthroughs were Spell Check and Grammar Check. Both could use improvement, but Microsoft just sits back. If you think about it, what could it do?
I'm guessing with the right creative team, many innovations could be considered, tested, and implemented. But Microsoft is the master of coasting while riding a winner. Unfortunately, the copycat suites have mostly caught up in both power and functionality.
A review of current headlines tells a tale. It shows that most of the Microsoft action, insofar as news coverage, targets the possibility that Phone 7 uncover a treasure trove. Look at today's headline mix:
• “Will Windows 8 Run Windows Phone 7 Apps?" by Gizmodo
• "Six major Windows 8 features for small business" by PCWorld
• "Microsoft To Snatch 20% Smartphone Market Share By 2015" by Forbes.com
• "Final Windows Phone 7.5 ROM for HTC Mozart leaked" by ZDNet
• "Stop snickering. Houston's Microsoft Store will surprise you." by Houston Chronicle
• "Microsoft Stock Has Upside To $28 But Office Franchise Is A Drag" by Forbes.com
Do you notice any sort of trend?
One thing caught my attention in that Forbes.com article. A brief anecdote recounts Microsoft’s sale of the entire Office Suite in China for $29 because of the prevalence of piracy in China—probably the most under-told story in the tech sector. It does two things: First, it reveals that China has a huge productivity advantage over the U.S. if it can get Office for $29. Second, it sends the message that entire nations should pirate Microsoft software because then they will get a better deal. What kind of message is that? But I digress.
Microsoft is trying to break into new markets with the Phone 7 product, but cannot avoid the fact that Office, along with Windows, is the huge cash cow that keeps the company running.
It was probably in the mid-1990s that I first heard that Microsoft knew Windows and Office could not support the company forever. It had to find some other way to make money. It was as if the company had zero confidence that it could continue to make money with a mainstay product. It's like Maytag saying that it could not make money forever with washing machines.
I heard this from everyone. The notion was apparently floated at some conference and taken as gospel by the parrots in the business. At about this time, a similar notion arose, which sent the message to Intel that the microprocessor market was dying; the company would need to invest in technologies like Wi-Fi. Intel spent far too much effort working on Wi-Fi and Wi-Max after everyone “knew” that the company would flatline if it persisted with microprocessors. While Intel chased its tail designing dead-end chips, it failed to notice the low-power trend and that the ARM designs were moving in on its territory.
The ARM chips licensed by so many companies, is a microprocessor design Intel should have been using.
So Microsoft, for close to 20 years, has been told how it’s driving down a dead-end road and probably believes it. All the while, it should have been enhancing Office Suite with features other than a new interface. If the company resisted the fads evolving from groupthink it would have a much more advanced system than it now sells. Worse, it would recognize that the cloud is no better than shrink-wrap for such a suite.
Right now, MS Office is vulnerable to any number of clone companies. One breakthrough or major simplification and Office will indeed be toast. But, if Microsoft had made serious and substantial improvements all along the way, it might stand a chance today.
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