Is Office 2010 Oh-So 2005?

Last night, I watched the 11 Microsoft videos introducing various Office 2010, Office Mobile and Office Web Applications features. I kept thinking: Microsoft is living in the past. The reaction was about the same for each video. Office 2010 will come five years late.

The past ultimately derives from Microsoft's application stack -- Office-Windows-Windows Server -- that the company desperately is trying to preserve. The new stack goes from mobile device to the cloud, which Microsoft cautiously embraces for fear of upsetting lucrative revenue streams tied to its established applications stack.

Microsoft's applications stack will remain lucrative for years, like IBM's mainframe monopoly did. But change is inevitable because of cycles of growth and maturity that affect businesses as much as people or other living things. Microsoft might slow down change through business tactics, but the move to a new applications stack is inevitable. Microsoft would have done better for its successful stack by better embracing the new one. But let's put that topic aside for a few paragraphs.


I'll sum up Office 2010 this way, based on information Microsoft disclosed yesterday: If you are someone who habitually uses applications like Word or PowerPoint -- who feels safe with them -- Microsoft has extended you a lifeline to smartphone and to the Web; user-interface and other tweaks should improve productivity. If you're someone like me who rarely, if ever, uses Office applications but creates content on the Web or for the Web, you may not want Office 2010 (I want to say "won't," but that's unfair without testing the software suite).

Let me ask a simple question for which I encourage answers in comments: How much do you really use Microsoft Office? Stated differently: How much do you need to use Office? For me the answer is rarely. I don't even have Office installed on my laptop, although I guess the Office 2010 Technical Preview will be obligatory if I'm going to write about it.

Peruse the Word 2010 video. Ayca Yuksel highlights new, gasp, formatting features for "creating a lengthy report for work or invitation to our office's open house." Other changes include new print or print preview features. No disrespect, but printed reports are oh-so five years ago.

Microsoft's idea of collaboration and social networking is Word and other Office documents shared via SharePoint. By appearances, Microsoft packs in good tools for online presence, but within confines. What? No Facebook or YouTube integration? New school, rather than old school, thinking would mean features for social networking across the Web for collaborating or sharing anytime, anywhere and on anything. Such an approach would resonate with Microsoft's so-called "Interoperability Principles."

According to the PowerPoint 2010 video, inserting and formatting photos is easier than ever. Oh, yeah? Why is there no dedicated photo editor or manager? (OK, there is a slick looking photo manipulator.) Why is there no dedicated video editor or manager? Static, text presentations are old school. They won't come alive with arrows or buttons but by audio and visual elements that tell stories. Videos should be just as easily posted to YouTube as inserted into the slide deck. Photo and video slideshows are the new PowerPoint. There's a reason for cliche "A picture is worth a thousand words." A good slide deck should be a talking point not a jumble of bullet points and graphics.

The Outlook 2010 video is like an invitation to sign up for another three years wearing a ball and chain. Desktop e-mail is oh-so old school. If most e-mail sent over the Internet is either spam or unwanted, what value is any desktop e-mail client? I don't mean to appear like a Google apologist, because I'm not. But something like Google Wave, which incorporates real-time connectivity across services, is more forward looking. Instead, you get Outlook 2010 conversations grouped together.

I'm not exactly pining for Office Web Applications. Already, I've read punditry about Office Web Applications being the end of Google Apps: Microsoft's response to Google free is free, all extended from familiar Office. Oh, yeah? Too many people make too much of a big deal about Google-Microsoft productivity suite competition. The emerging applications stack of the future isn't about productivity suites. It's about the creation and consumption of other content types -- raw information (for search) and audio and video, among others.

Office Web Applications might be more exciting if Microsoft better supported the kind of content that already dominates the new, emerging applications stack -- mobile device to cloud. Same goes for Google Apps. But Google aims to pick off low-hanging Microsoft customers. Office Web Applications seeks to hold onto them. Neither productivity suite is the future of anything. They're all about the past.

Something else: There are dwindling numbers of office workers -- at least the kind Office appealed to five years ago. Most people don't need to produce information in Office, even if they might cling to all habits or business processes. If you agree or disagree, please say why in comments.

I'm starting to think Googlers are really smart at business, after all. Last week's Google OS announcement suddenly has bigger context, because of Office Web Applications. Office Web Applications conceptually could complete the Google productivity applications stack, from Chrome OS devices, depending on how many features really do require Office 2010.

Linux is a desktop PC loser because there's no Microsoft Office. Linux has perpetually stalled on the PC because there is no Office equivalent (Please, let's not debate OpenOffice in comments). The applications stack was incomplete. Macs have done better in enterprises -- and still not that great -- in part because of Office for Macintosh. For many businesses, Microsoft's Web suite could be the best thing running on Chrome OS.

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