Office Politics - InformationWeek

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9/25/2007
03:15 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Office Politics

Way back in the '80s, a popular maxim had it that "nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM." An IBM salesman probably came up with that one, but in any case it stuck. Reflecting on last week's announcement about the new IBM Lotus Symphony desktop suite, based on OpenOffice.org technology and available as a free download, I'd say it's time for a new maxim: "Nobody ever got fired for perpetuating the Microsoft Office monopoly."

Way back in the '80s (or does it date all the way back to the '70s?), a popular maxim had it that "nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM." An IBM salesman probably came up with that one, but in any case it stuck. Reflecting on last week's announcement about the new IBM Lotus Symphony desktop suite, based on OpenOffice.org technology and available as a free download, I'd say it's time for a new maxim: "Nobody ever got fired for perpetuating the Microsoft Office monopoly."As this article by Nicholas Hoover points out, there are now alternatives to Microsoft Office that are "cheaper, delivered as a service, more collaborative, or more open than Microsoft's Office apps--in some cases, all of the above." But as the article also points out, end-user resistance to giving up Word and Excel is a real barrier to what proponents would argue are better, or at least cheaper, alternatives to Office.

A few years ago I tried Sun's open source StarOffice suite just to see how the half a percent of desktop productivity software users lives. I didn't like it too much. Word processing was easy enough, but the presentation software in particular was about as familiar as COBOL programming. Okay, I tried first-generation software that has no doubt been improved many times over in terms of intuitive navigation. Nonetheless, the familiarity of the Office suite has a way of breeding contentment.

I had a chat with Allen Emerick, a Director of IT at global construction giant Skanska last week, and he voiced what is, I'm sure, the position of many of his peers in IT departments around the globe: "I have a reserve of only so much influential capital, and I'm not going to squander that telling users they can't use the tools they're used to using." (Another disclaimer: Skanska USA Building is a Microsoft shop that is implementing SharePoint, PerformancePoint and Office 2007.)

Yes, most users know that they use only a fraction of the available functionality in Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and most IT people know that there are much cheaper alternatives available. But for now, only the most cost-conscious and religiously motivated (as in open source religion) orgs will spend their time, energy and influence on actively campaign to banish Office and replace it with Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice, StarOffice or other alternatives.

This list of OpenOffice-adopting enterprises speaks volumes about where the mainstream is at. I don't see a single Fortune 500 or Global 2000 company on the list (with the possible exception of PSA Peugeot Citroen). And Microsoft's Office-integrated push into enterprise areas such as portal and content management (through SharePoint) and BI and performance management (through SQL Server/Services and PerformancePoint) will only make IT shops less inclined to swap out the desktop piece.

Having said all this, I believe the day will come when businesses start to realize that few employees really need an expensive and bloated version of what's available from free, open source productivity suites. Perhaps it will be Web-based suites such as Google Docs that take off like instant messaging did. Or perhaps Microsoft will manage to stumble (as it has with search, Zune, Xbox, etc.) to such a degree that competitors simply walk away with a new and different market.

Make no mistake: as Office goes, so goes Microsoft. It will be interesting to see if IBM's added weight ends up creating a tipping point.Way back in the '80s, a popular maxim had it that "nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM." An IBM salesman probably came up with that one, but in any case it stuck. Reflecting on last week's announcement about the new IBM Lotus Symphony desktop suite, based on OpenOffice.org technology and available as a free download, I'd say it's time for a new maxim: "Nobody ever got fired for perpetuating the Microsoft Office monopoly."

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