Office software hasn't changed in over 20 years

What was your office like 20 years ago? You were probably sitting at your desk jamming to Madonna's "Into the Groove," wearing stone-washed denim and working away on your IBM PS/2 486 MHz computer. Since then, office software has rested atop its "good enough" mountain with no real challengers. Somehow good enough is good enough as long as the checks keep rolling in. Meanwhile, two generations of us have used the same personal inbox, calendar, word processor and spreadsheet to do our work. This has gone on for so long, many of us can't even imagine our workplace framed a different way.

Office software will be free, then included in the OS

Suddenly, companies have a gaggle of "Office" options from folks like Google, Zoho, Thinkfree, Zimbra/Yahoo, Adobe, OpenOffice and a slew of others. But these Microsoft competitors are merely duplicating the Office suite--Google and OpenOffice even give theirs away. The resulting navel-contemplation in the industry often focuses on whether office software's future is based on the web or on the premises, but that focus is misplaced and misses the bigger picture. The spate of knock-offs will devalue this old set of features. Soon, paying for "Office" software will seem as ridiculous as paying for a web browser. Microsoft is painfully aware of this. Rumor has it they are readying the release of a free, limited and ad-supported version of their Office suite.

 

The current revolution of office software is not a revision of the old one

The picture has quickly expanded past file creation and email sorting. Traditional office software features are being absorbed into browsers and OSes. The next level of digital office work is shifting from a disjointed file exchange work model to one that's much more connected, contextual and collaborative. In the old model, users create documents in isolation and exchange them with other isolated users--all insulated from and out of sync with the bigger picture of relevant interpersonal activity. In the new collaboration model, connected people understand when, what and why to engage and they do it in a unified environment. They use file-sharing only as a supplement, when and if it's necessary. We refer to this collaboration model as Social Productivity, which frames our daily work activity in the "we" vs. "me" context and then delivers new functionality to help with these connections. This more accurately mimics our work-with-others activity vs. the produce-alone-and-distribute part of our daily equation. Now we can get context at a glance, work doesn't disappear once we hit "send," and we stay connected to the efforts most important to us.

 

 

The irony of the "Office wars"

There's a lot of speculation about how things will change but the good news is that there will be change. Some of it reminds me of what happened to Netscape. When they broke onto the scene in 1994 with their Navigator web browser, they charged for it and people gladly paid because it was the best (and arguably the only) solution available. Then in the late nineties, Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer--for free. After a very short "browser war," Microsoft integrated their browser into their OS. Netscape lost, but users didn't care. They happily looked past the browser features because the real value wasn't the browser; it was the content within it. Ironically, it is now Microsoft that is set up to stumble on its own shrewd business practices, which could cost them almost 30% of their $40 billion revenue engine. There's always Outlook.

 

Our office future finally changes

A whole new industry focused on Social Productivity has emerged. The door is open for new market leaders to lead this next wave of innovation. Demand is through the roof for this bigger picture approacha more visible and productive enterprise. All of this is good news for employees and companies. Social Productivity is already producing better results and more quickly than we ever did wearing the blinders of individual contributors. A whole new marketplace is changing the game. Our kids will smile with nostalgia when they think of a digital “document” saved somewhere on a hard driveliterally modeled after a piece of paper--that only one person at a time could access or give to someone else to look over. It already sounds quaint and archaic.