Thoughts on the Future of Microsoft Office

There is a lot of news about recent developments on the Microsoft Office front. Microsoft has a beta of Office 2010 in circulation and Fortune Magazine is reporting there will be an online version available for free.

I know a lot of people think Microsoft would be crazy to offer any version of Office free. I think Microsoft would be crazy not to have a free version. While at first glance, Microsoft appears to have a stranglehold on the office productivity suite game, that position may not last forever. There are several reasons why this should change.

1. Cloud Computing and Online Applications.

While Microsoft has been happily filling enterprise orders, Google (and a slew of others) have released free online applications that have all of the functionality most mere mortals require from Microsoft Office. Did I mention it is free and online? That means users can easily access their data from anywhere.

2. Office Has Competition (Sort of).

On the Mac there are a variety of alternatives to Microsoft Office. I think the development of so many alternatives on the Mac is a primal, almost baked into our DNA . Mac users and developers remember the days when Microsoft held the future of the Mac platform in its hand with the decision to keep (or drop) Office support. Microsoft knew it. Apple knew it. Microsoft even flaunted it. Nobody wants to go back there.

This is, of course, an unrealistic fear in this day. Apple has its own iWork suite (superior in my opinion) and the Apple developer community has grown it's own fantastic alternatives. I'm not familiar with the landscape on the PC side but OpenOffice comes to mind as another multi-platform competitor.

3. The New Workforce.

Kids these days. There is an entirely new generation going through school that is not as sold on Microsoft Office as mine was. Just like my generation displaced WordPerfect with Word, the next generation could very easily displace Word with something like Google Docs.

While I use components of Microsoft Office pretty regularly, it is only when I must. I'll take Pages over Word any day and when it comes to presentation work, you'll have to pry Keynote out of my cold, dead hand. Of course, I'm a nerd and think way too much about these things.

For people that have a more balanced set of priorities, they'll use whatever comes on their machines. That is why it is ultimately Microsoft's game to lose. There are some very smart people at Microsoft (and some very dedicated Mac geeks in the Mac Business Unit). I'm sure they see the writing on the wall and they will adapt. However, the days of competition crushing dominance are over for Microsoft Office.