Microsoft Office Online: Free as in puppies

So Microsoft is once again playing catch-up to compete in spaces in which others are already succeeding: online business productivity suites. Google and Zoho are doing well here, and have a well-established base. Microsoft, in its constant quest to be the only software provider on the planet, is taking Office online, too. But as usual, they’re making a right mess of things.

Google and Zoho can dedicate entire teams to making specific, cohesive applications delivered online. Microsoft is, by necessity, going to have to have a different set of developers working on the online version of Office 2010 than those working on the desktop application of Office 2010. It remains to be seen how closely the online version will look and feel like the desktop version, and whether any unexpected synchronization issues arise as features are deployed to one or the other product.

And even if they get the interfaces similar between the online and offline versions, end users are still going to resent having to learn how interact with the new systems all over again. No one I’ve spoken to about the matter has been happy with the switch to Office 2007. Regular users struggle to be productive and say bad things about Bill Gates when interface changes are foisted upon them for no discernible reason.

Trust me: I’ve tried telling people that the interface experts at Microsoft spent a lot of time and money studying how people use Office in order to inform their decisions. No one cares, because it’s too esoteric. All they see is that it’s different, and all the muscle memory they’ve acquired for how to do stuff is now null and void.

In typical Microsoft fashion, the online version of Office has some hidden requirements. It looks like a SharePoint server is required for businesses to share documents amongst employees. Does anyone actually like SharePoint? I’ve never heard anyone say “Oh yes! I get to deploy a SharePoint server today!” Instead, I only hear people complaining about it.

So sure, the online version of Office is “free”, just like that puppy your coworker gave to you. But you need to spend a lot of time and money taking care of things — a SharePoint server, client access licenses for business users, etc; just like you’ll have the costs of veterinary bills, food, obedience school, and more wrapped up in that “free” puppy.

Thankfully, Microsoft is streamling the Office line from eight different editions down to five! Is it me, or does the world think that, just maybe, a single complete Office suite is all we really need? Granted, Microsoft makes buckets of money by selling licenses for the different versions of Office to corporate costumers, so I guess they know better than I do what to do.

Normally, this is where I’d say something like “Or you could use OpenOffice!”, but I’ll refrain. OpenOffice is just fine for some users, just like Google Docs is just fine for some users; even though both lack many of the features of Microsoft Office. As much as people rail against Microsoft, they sure seem to love Office!