Friday, March 28, 2014

Office for the iPad -- too late? The browser is the next battleground.

Microsoft finally released Office for the iPad, but the iPad is four years old -- this announcement is long overdue. Preliminary reviews say they have done a good job on the touch user interface, but isn't that the last war?

The next war is not over the tablet or phone, but over the browser.

Don't take my word for it. In a 1997 Time interview (by Walter Isaacson) Bill Gates said:

Any operating system without a browser is going to be f****** out of business. Should we improve our product, or go out of business?
In 1998 he sent a memo to Microsoft executives saying:
One thing we have got to change in our strategy - allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by other peoples browsers is one of the most destructive things we could do to the company...This is a case where Office has to avoid doing something to destroy Windows.
I have been using a Chromebook for a week and I use Google Docs quite a bit, and, while I like both, am not ready to give up Windows. But, I bet there are a lot of folks who would abandon Windows if they could run Office in a browser.

What would have happened if Microsoft had released Office for the iPad, say, two years ago? It would have helped iPad sales and hurt Windows tablets for sure, but Windows tablets are not doing well regardless, and Microsoft and Office would have strengthened their dominant position with professional and enterprise users. Maybe they should have rebranded themselves the "software and services company" instead of "devices and services."

Now let's look forward, say, five years. I will have a gigabit Internet connection (well, not if Time Warner has their way) and my Chromebook will be very fast and compatible with HTML6. Will I want to use Office 365 and One Drive or Google Docs 2019 and Google Drive? Which one will my university or an enterprise settle on?

Today, Microsoft has the advantage of having many years of experience with Office and full-featured productivity applications. (Charles Simonyi, who worked on object-oriented programming on computers with bit-mapped displays at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s, led the development of Word and Excel at Microsoft). They also have a solid grip on the enterprise.

Microsoft "got" bit mapped displays before Google existed, but Google "got" the Internet before Microsoft did and they have more experience with network infrastructure and applications with their data centers, Google Fiber and Google Docs/Drive. They've also got the chromebook and Chrome. (That being said, both may end up running on Mainframe 2 if that technology prevails).

I don't know which will "win" the browser battle (it may end a tie) and neither do the folks at Google and Microsoft -- and that is good news for us as consumers and citizens.