Our good friends in Redmond are at it again. Microsoft in many ways are like a 5 year old naughty child. When they see competitors nipping at their heels they change the rules of the game. Not content with virtually obsolescing 80% of the computers currently in use world wide with their new resource hogging feature rich version of Windows Vista, they are about to change the lucrative office suite market.

Microsoft makes the bulk of revenue from only two products, Windows and Office. Since 1996 Microsoft Office has been the de facto standard for word processing and spreadsheets. The business suite market is a very lucrative one.

The major contender that has emerged in the last two years is OpenOffice. The price difference is significant, a full blown bloated Microsoft version will lighten your wallet by about $400, while OpenOffice costs exactly $0. All you have to do is download it.

If you prefer to have your documents available anywhere you should check out Google Documents, it is a great little product.

In my real job (yes I do have one) I use Microsoft Word every day. In fact I have used Word for over 10 years, I even teach classes about it. I declare myself an expert witness!

The harsh reality is that even though I am an experienced user, I create reference manuals, and text books in Word, and yet I use about 10% of Words functionality. I could be using the 10 year old version and it would do everything I need.

The Microsoft Office suite has just become a bloated set of programs. The need for greed, has exceeded the need for speed.

Microsoft’s solution to keep making us pay, is to change the rules of engagement, Office 2007 changes the file formats that documents are stored in. This will mean that OpenOffice, Google Documents, etc will no longer be able to read and write Microsoft Office 2007 files. The ultimate kicker, the one that smacks of true monopolistic actions, is that earlier versions of Microsoft Office will not be able to read the new format!

This whole escapade is reminiscent of IBM in the 1960’s and 1970’s. When the competition comes a calling, change the rules, was the mantra of the time. IBM played with the interfaces. As soon as the competition had developed a compatible piece of equipment, IBM would change either the hardware or software interface to ensure that the competitor’s equipment was no longer useable.

With the growing Linux movement Microsoft needs to rethink this monopolistic approach. Increasingly companies are looking at open and clearly defined interfaces to permit peaceful co-existence.

To misquote Obi Won Kenobi “Feel the force Bill”.

Simon Barrett




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