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Vista and Office: The Desktop’s Last Stand?

There’s buzz aplenty about Vista (again) now that RC2 is out and mainly positive reviews of it are pouring in. On the anti-piracy front, the freak out that we mentioned last week continues, with those pesky Gartner analysts suggesting that Microsoft should do more to compensate customers for the huge pain that Redmond’s new authentication scheme is sure to be. We’ve also got Microsoft defending the decision to cripple Windows Defender in editions of Vista red flagged as non-genuine. None of this, of course, would really make any difference if Microsoft could just come up with built-in anti-piracy measures that actually worked (unlike the infamous mess that is Windows Genuine Advantage) rather than filling users’ and IT administrators’ (and partners’) lives with false alarms and management hassles. Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, though. Anyway....

Pundits and commentators are increasingly labeling Vista as more evolutionary than revolutionary, despite what Microsoft wants the forthcoming OS to be. In fact, it’s the other cash cow, Office, that might prove to be more of a revolution than Vista -- for better or worse.

In any case, the imminent release of both Redmond revenue monsters begs the question of how much longer we’re even going to be installing big office suites in fat operating systems. In fact, a couple of Gartner analysts (they’re everywhere) pinned Steve Ballmer down on that very question at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo this week. Ballmer says that while distribution of functionality via the Internet is growing all the time, the client isn’t dead yet.

"The difference between software plus a service and software as a services is whether people will want to use the local intelligence in their phones, PCs, etc. Even if you look at some Internet services today, they all use power from the client.... AJAX uses the power of the client and the Instant Messenger clients from us and Yahoo and Google use the client," he’s quoted as saying in the story linked in the paragraph above.

For now, of course, he’s right. But while software as a service (or SAAS, as it’s much easier to write) might still be a gangly teenager in terms of development, it’s growing all the time. And by the time Vista and Office 2007 reach retirement age -- think five years or more from now -- SAAS should be a full-grown adult. By then, will we care about local compute power in our PCs and other devices, or will we just need a connection and a browser to user whatever apps we need with whatever functionality we require? And is Microsoft -- or anybody else -- prepared to serve its partners and customers in that world?

It’s hard for anybody to answer those questions right now -- although, to be fair, Microsoft is making massive investments in Windows Live and does seem to grasp the coming power of SAAS, even if its moneymakers are still the old-school OS and Office suite. In any case, as what might be the last of the great OS/office suite releases gets ready to roll, it’s time for innovators and market movers to stop thinking about the present and shift the paradigm (to use a great late-‘90s expression) to move to the computing model of the future. And it’s time for partners to think about how their strategies will change with the times.

Will Vista/Office 2007 be the last of the great OS/office suite releases? How are you preparing for software as a service? Post here or write to me at lpender@rcpmag.com. And coming Thursday, your reactions to the $100 office suite.

Posted by Lee Pender on October 10, 2006 at 11:53 AM