15 September 2006

Microsoft Works won't impede Google's online application suite

Microsoft appear to be mulling over the option to release their Works "suite" online in some form. Works has languished for some time, in part due to the popularity of the full-blown Office suite but also because of competition from quality free products like OpenOffice.

Meanwhile Web 2.0 apps from several sources, and significantly the emerging online suite (Mail, Calendar, Spreadsheet, with Mail acting as a slim word-processor) from Google, are providing many of the features and most of the usabilty of Works. The only significant lack is a database and a rich editor with mail-merge capabilities; hardly beyond the capabilities or resources of Google.

So what are the possible forms that a Works re-release might take? That depends on how much Microsoft are willing to invest; ranging from nearly nothing to say 4 person years of work, here are some options:
  • free online download of Works, possibly supplemented by contextual ads (say based on the content of your document)
  • a pseudo-online solution where Works would be offered as an ActiveX plug-in within Internet Explorer; different Works app-lets would be loaded into different plug-in instances
  • Works with integration to Windows Live Spaces
  • Works Extra Lite, with some infrequently used but bulky features like spell-checking and file conversions off-loaded to a Microsoft server
But in the end, I think MS would be wasting their (and our) time with this. Works is just a low-end (even crippled) office suite compared to OpenOffice.org, and it will never be a Web 2.0 app that you can access anywhere.

On the other hand, if they decided to make OneNote freely available online, add a spreadsheet, simple database and blogging capability - now that would be interesting as it would offer a rich user experience and a different feature set.

There are a few ways this could play out:
  • MS could offer OneNote as I outline above
  • Google could decide to offer richer offline but web-integrated versions of their apps, with integrated Google (re)search facilities
  • OpenOffice.org could add journalling capabilities
There's even a fourth option - a dark horse using Java for rich offline capability and natural browser integration as an applet or via Web Start. That's what I've been wanting to develop for 10 years now; maybe this idea has found it's time.

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