We Still Have Office

Patrick Rhone from Minimal Mac recently shared his thoughts on “Microsoft’s Biggest Miss” which he believes happened with Office:

Then, she explained, the iPhone came. There was no Office. People got things done. Then the iPad came. There was no Office. People got things done. Android came. People got things done. All of those things that they, just a couple of years ago, were convinced they needed Office to do. They got them done without it. And thus, the truth was revealed. Like the curtain finally falling from the Wizard of Oz to find just a small, frail, man pretending to be far more powerful and relevant than he really was. Microsoft’s biggest miss was allowing the world to finally see the truth behind the big lie — they were not needed to get real work done. Or anything done, really.

I’ve had love/hate relationship with Microsoft for the past 17 years. When I moved to Seattle I desperately wanted to work for them. It didn’t take long before I got a chance working as a product manager for two smaller products that were eventually merged into other products. I eventually landed on the Office team which felt like moving from T-Ball to the New York Yankees, but within the same company.

It was as true back then as it is today that the Windows and Office divisions sit atop of the product group food chain. Mess with them, and you’ll get eaten.

They are the Microsoft cash cows while most other products are but a tiny blip on the radar. Exchange, SQL Server and even Xbox have made some noise, but Windows and Office are the popular jocks kicking sand in the eyes of every other product group.

When the Justice Department began its investigation into Microsoft’s anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in 1998, few employees seemed concerned. I was working as a contractor at Microsoft at the time and was interviewing for a full-time position. While at lunch one afternoon with a Microsoft recruiter, I asked if he was worried about could result from of the DOJ investigation. His answer reflected the general attitude at the time:

“Are you kidding, we still have Office.”

While much has been written about the varying degrees of quality with each new version of Windows, such was not the case with Office. It was the gold standard within Microsoft and every employee knew it. Compared to Office, the Windows division was frat boy who was late to class because he was out partying all night.

And yet here I write this on a PC running Windows using the free Windows Live Writer instead of Word. As good as Office is, I stopped using it about four years ago when Google Docs arrived and suddenly made sharing my work dead simple. My needs were not so advanced that I felt like I was giving up anything. When I bought my first iPhone, the transition to Google Docs made even more sense. No more updates to install, PST files to manage or Outlook contacts to sync.

I hear Office360 is comparable to Google Docs. For all I know, it may have more features and offer more storage. But it’s all too little too late. Simplicity won out over sheer number of features.  Is there anyone still in Redmond who understands that a tablet or phone with a few features implemented perfectly beats one with dozens implemented poorly? This lesson appears lost on Microsoft.

I may not need Office, but plenty of businesses still rely on it and continue to line Microsoft’s pockets. It’s going to be around for a while. Putting it on the web is a move in the right direction, but it’s baffling why a software company wouldn’t build a version for the most popular smartphone and tablet.

Then again, we understand why they don’t.

Microsoft appears to be sacrificing one cash cow to save the other. And maybe it will work. But they could end up injuring both cows.