September 03, 2003
Office Now Verses Office in the Future

Microsoft's Office suite is the subject of two recent articles:

The first, by Hal Varian and his son, Chris, addresses their Microsoft Office-Linux Interoperability Experiment where they took samples of Word, Excel and PowerPoint files from the Internet and opened them on Linux systems using free office systems like StarOffice, which was the overall winner in compatibility, with scores of 95 to the 99th percentile depending on which application and type of documents.

One could quarrel with our sampling methodology. Files posted on the Internet are often there to be read by others and may well be more generic than files distributed within a typical organization. Most of the Microsoft Word files that we downloaded, for example, did not use mathematics, outlines, tracking changes, or other such features.

This particular experiment should be considered a pilot study that could be extended to a larger one, and perhaps automated to some degree. Nevertheless, the results are suggestive: The current state of interoperability is reasonably good, although there is significant room for improvement.

The second article by David Becker/CNet says that the New Office locks down documents with DRM or Information Rights Management. "If Office 2003 was just another incremental upgrade, they'd have a hard time getting businesses interested," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Jupiter Research. "For most people, the pinnacle of functionality in Office applications came in 1995. But there are more things that can be done using Office as a platform for delivering new services." Apparently, businesses have been slow to adopt the new Office 2003. So the answer for MS appears to be to include DRM in the form of their IRM as well as XML (both of which require Windows Server 2003 to implement).

This may also break the interoperability the Varians found in their preliminary study between Office documents and other free office ware. And people with older versions of MS Office may not be able to read documents from Office 2003. This may mean that MS can lock-in companies and users and force otherwise unnecessary upgrade even more so than they already are. But if their Office 2003 documents are no longer compatible, does that mean more anti-competative behavior? Robert X. Cringely has a story about the Burst v. MS case. The only thing was, nobody, or almost nobody was watching the case.

Microsoft did not come through the hearing very well as whole new levels of anti-competitive behavior were claimed by Burst AND ACKNOWLEDGED BY MICROSOFT -- levels that will likely haunt Redmond in many legal cases to come. While the Burst case is a different kind of anti-competitive behavior, it appears constant vigilance with MS is critical because of their tremendous power in the market.

Posted by Mary Hodder at September 03, 2003 07:50 AM
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