Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Office 2007 is the PS/2, have you heard of it?

How 2007 is Going to be 1987

Microsoft has remade the PS/2 - the very thing that vaulted them over IBM for market dominance - in their own image.

And its called Office 2007.

In 1987, IBM crafted a frustratingly inconsistent, incompatible, and technically uninteresting upgrade that brought the business community nothing substantial. IBM believed that their dominance would force corporate America to not only ignore the high cost of and the problems with their new platform. They smugly thought the market would buy this "vendor lock-in dressed as a new product" product known (now barely remembered) as the PS/2.

20 years later? Substitute IBM with Microsoft and PS/2 with Office 2007.

Having obviously learned nothing from their former partner and rival, Microsoft is in the exact same market position as IBM was - totally dominant, with some cracks beginning to show both technically and financially - and are under the idea that doing everything possible to piss off as many users as they possibly can is somehow going to improve the situation.

In the later 1980's, it was already becoming obvious that only stuffed shirts of MIS middle management thought their job simply meant walking into a meeting and saying "IBM" and "industry standard" a lot and to be continuously validated by their technically inept bosses. And, well, it was.

But for those companies and startups doing new things and coming up with actual new ideas - thinking past the PC and looking toward the future of networks and interoperability - for those folks that actually make things happen in "The Valley" like Apple, Sun, HP and Compaq, the thought of using IBM hardware to be the basis of their burgeoning companies was impossible to think, and a sign that one's technical chops were weak... "corporate suit"-weak.

Welcome to 2007. It is already becoming obvious that only the stuffed shirts of IT middle management think that their job simply means walking into any meeting and saying "Microsoft" and "industry standard" a lot while being neverendingly validated by their technically inept bosses. And well, it still is.

But for those doing new things and coming up with actual new ideas - thinking past the simple internet toward integration and interoperability and user-driven content and online everywhere - for those folks that actually make things happen in "The Valley" like Apple, Google, and pick-a-2.0-company, the thought of using Microsoft software to be the basis of their burgeoning companies IS impossible to think, and a sign that one's technical chops are weak... "point and click"-weak.

I can't think of a single 2.0 company that we've all heard of that runs Microsoft's proprietary software stack. Not one. Paul Graham pointed that out to us in his now famous dictum - "Microsoft is dead". To quote The Real Steve Jobs, that doesn't mean in a small way.. that means in a big way. They're dead not that they're going out of business next week - IBM never went out of business - but today, hip, technologically savvy people don't really care about Microsoft, and it will only be about 5 years before Microsoft's most reliable customers - corporate and government America - will catch on and follow suit. But the stink of death is already on them.

Paul said

"All the computer people use Macs or Linux now. Windows is for grandmas, like Macs used to be in the 90s. So not only does the desktop no longer matter, no one who cares about computers uses Microsoft's anyway."

This is exactly how it was for IBM in the late 80's as they petered out of the dominant role in the computer industry. All the "computer" people used non-IBM machines. Not only didn't the computer maker matter, anyone who cared about computers intentionally didn't use IBM computers by 1990.

And by then, "IBM Compatible" became a term 100 times more popular than "IBM PC" had ever been.

I was there - I worked at Babbages in the mall in hyper-affluent Southern California - and i can count on one hand the number of times i heard "I have an IBM PC". They always said "I have an IBM Compatible".

How did it happen? Easy! remember it with me...

One random day in 1987, IBM had a press conference, and it was very weird. IBM, in their power ties and "greed is good" suits stood there and smiled on us like hapless children as they dropped the combo-mother of all shit sandwiches upon the corporate world -
1. incompatibility
2. buck naked vendor lock-in
3. a price that would make Donald Trump (pre gopher-hairpiece) shit in his pants.

I think that they thought the world was looking for just that combo... i guess.

3 years later, IBM was floundering in all kinds of bizarre ways, like asking their newfound rival, Microsoft, to write software that competed with Microsoft's new operating system, for IBM, in order to smash Microsoft's own product? This intergalactically famous corporate screwup is so dense that blackholes don't suck as hard and this mistake's perfection is sullied only by the fact that Michael Bay hasn't made a movie of it yet.

Fast forward to... no... lets scroll wheel down to 2007.

Microsoft partners with Novell on Linux and Windows technologies... and there's talk of Yahoo buyouts. They make two very Apple-esque totally closed platforms that no one else can license and that they control every facet of, and lose money hand over fist in these endeavors... while basically taking their only money makers, Office and Windows, and making them so confoundingly different to use and basically incompatible with everything that came before them.

see what i mean?

Today, Microsoft's lock-in is simple and one can only wonder what in the hell would posess them to tamper with the Perfect Lock-In Storm of


Corporate hard drives are stuffed to the gills with them to point where the MSCE's can't slam additional harddrives into the RAIDs fast enough - and they want to break that? What are they smoking?

And just as there were untold AT keyboards, monitors, floppy disks, and specialty cards that worked in "IBM Compatible" computers that would absolutely NOT work on IBM PS/2 computers, the world now runs on 3 3-letter abominations of binary files. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that will be too hard to use with Office 2007 for the average office worker.

It will be one Homer Simpson "DOH!" moment after another as people fight their software in ways only previously found in nightmares trying to do something as simple as making a Word file that someone else can read. Hell, if this is Microsoft's idea of "its easy", Office 2007 is going to be non-stop fun.

Your boss and you put up with a lot using Windows... what's going to happen when work is a 10-hour long monkeyshit fight to do nothing more basic than give someone a file that they can read?

How long until the phrase "Old Office File" becomes part of our everyday lexicon? Seriously, I should trademark the phrase "Old Office Compatible" and go sit on a beach drinking mai tai's with no salt for the rest of my life. It worked for Michel Buffer, didn't it?

But as my fellow engineers and i read the announcement today in the company-wide email, it came to me like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky...

Microsoft has just IBM'd themselves.

The message read in part:

"The shit sandwich of Office 2007 will be coming to your computer one morning in the near future, and there's nothing you can do about it. You can put mustard on it in the form of "online training", we can even give you a teaser taste of the shit sandwich by giving you a copy at home for $26 of your own dollars. But don't be fooled. You *will* eat this shit sandwich".

That's paraphrased, by the way. The actual message caused people in my office to start mumbling phrases which will become the stuff of "coprorate bingo" from a few years ago...

  • "i guess i'll be working at home now just to get my work done"
  • "is there a 'classic' mode so that i can just get my work done?"
  • "at least they haven't done anything crazy like get rid of File, Edit, View, and Tools menus... right? Right?"

    The worst part is that i've not heard a single person, technical or otherwise, give a single reasonable answer to the most obvious question... "why are we doing this and why can't we just leave things alone since they work?". The reason is obvious and hardly needs to be said...

    Microsoft has no choice, and big companies and US government agencies are similarly left with no choice - just as Microsoft intended us to be.

    As an aside and in the spirit of not being a knee-jerk windows basher, lets point out some truths...
  • Windows 95? Much better than 3.1, thank you.
  • NT 4 eventually brought you Windows 95 on something moderately stable.
  • Window 2000 was the best version of Windows ever - accepted as truth galaxy-wide and true source of Microsoft's problem - that no one would ever need a newer version of Windows ever again
  • XP was 2000, but slower, but you could basically have your Windows 2000 for a few more years and just get back to work.

    I'm not even going to bring up Vista, mostly because i don't have to. The reviews are short and to the point...
    "No reasonable requirements... Less useable than Windows XP. Lame."

    And funny, the corporate world is saying to Vista..."yeah, maybe later, maybe never. not now, that's for sure. Stop asking".

    But i've been reading and seeing and am now personally affected by some mutant corporate IT leadership that have somehow figured "well, Vista will be a pain in my ass, but Office will be a pain in their ass, so lets do that and get the little man from Microsoft off my back to upgrade."

    While, practically no one alive can even tell without looking at a splash screen which version of Office they are on between 95, 97, 2000, 2003 - we all know what happens the first time one of the little IT rank-n-file installs Office 2007 on a "test" machine.

    They start to get a twitch, and then they start to sweat... then they just outright panic..

    Their futures? A never ending bitch session from their users of..."where's the Freeze Pane in this damn new Excel?" and "where the hell is Times New Roman?" and "i just want to click on the indent button... where the hell did it go?"

    But the one that will be seared into their ears for all time will be...

    "how do i do this in Office 2007"

    I should trademark "...where's the Tools menu..." too and invite a friend to sit next to me on the beach.

    How did IBM screw up - in one sentence? By trying to foist non-compatible products on the golden geese of corporate America at outrageous prices with "Vendor Lock-In" listed as a feature in the sales pitch.

    Ditto, Microsoft.

    And as I sit here, i am astonished. If Microsoft put out a vision statement that read "To rise to complete dominance and ultimately crash and burn in exactly the same way as IBM", presented it at a shareholder meeting, and gave it out to everyone at Microsoft as a powerpoint file to print out and decorate their cubicles... they still wouldn't have come up with such a perfect clone of IBMs great failure.

    But i'll need those as .ppt's... i can't open .pptx files.
    I'm on a Mac.

    * : much love to FakeSteve - don't worry, i don't plan on hijacking El Jobso's riffs as general practice. Consider this title my one "freebie" leech.
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