Is Microsoft Office in trouble?

At first, when I learned that Microsoft was not quickly supporting its own Open XML, but ODF and PDF instead, I thought it was a great joke. Microsoft went to all that trouble to make Open XML an ISO standard, but then they can't even support it themselves! Better still, Jason Matusow, Microsoft's senior director of interoperability, and Doug Mahugh, Microsoft Office's senior product manager had to fess up to its customers wanting ODF and PDF. So much for Open XML and Metro!

What ever happened to Metro, Microsoft's PDF killer anyway? Did it just die of neglect like Microsoft Bob?

Getting back to the point, I started thinking more about what Microsoft odd document format moves could really mean. Pamela Jones, editor of Groklaw, suspects that Microsoft wants to work on the ODF and PDF standards so that it can foul them up with what Matusow called "Engineering tradeoffs."

I can buy that theory. It's right out of the Microsoft playbook.

But, still why is Microsoft doing this? Why aren't they, at least, promoting their own standard?

After thinking about it, I'm beginning to wonder if Microsoft has been cooking its Office 2007 sales numbers. Microsoft has claimed from the start that Office 2007 was selling like ice-cream cones on a hot summer day. I always thought that was more than a little odd.

First, Office 2007's Ribbon interface is a radical change that doesn't offer any real advantage to users. I have never known anyone who wanted to learn a new way to do the same old work. Do you?

Besides, if your users are already using Office 2003, XP, 2000, or heck I even know people who still use Office 97, what exactly are you spending your money on anyway? I, for one, really haven't seen anything all that much better than the office suites of 1997 anyway.

For years, Microsoft had the complete run of office software. WordPerfect was licking its wounds over at Corel and barely hanging on to life, and Lotus SmartSuite had died a quiet, unmourned death. All Microsoft had to do was roll out a new version of Office, and collect the revenue.

Then, along came OpenOffice. All the functionality of say Office 97, decent compatibility with Microsoft's own formats, and it was free. A few years roll by, and OpenOffice keeps getting better.

While this is happening, Google decides to see if customers were finally ready for an online office suite in 2006: Google Docs. At first, people dismissed it as a toy. No one does that now. Google Apps is used by serious businesses for serious work. You can even use its document and spreadsheet components offline now.

What two things do Google Apps and OpenOffice have in common? They're both free and both natively support PDF and ODF.

And, now Microsoft isn't hurrying to support its own format, but it is moving to support PDF and ODF... Could it be that all those copies of Office 2007 Microsoft boasts of selling are collecting dust at reseller and retailer warehouses instead of being used on office systems? Could users be sticking with their older copies of Office and when they do want to move to something newer, they're moving to OpenOffice and Google instead?

Interesting isn't it?

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
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