The Office is Closed for Innovation
Happy post-July 4th, everyone. And now, a few words about productivity.
I’m currently running the beta version of Microsoft Office 2015 for the Mac. After using this upgrade for several weeks (and loading two full-package updates), I would like to congratulate Microsoft on an absolutely outstanding job of doing absolutely nothing to advance the experience of email management, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. Maybe they’re saving the real upgrades for the Windows version—in which case I may never know—but MS Office 2015 for the Mac, at least in beta so far, looks like a new OS 10.10 paint job splattered over MS Office 2011. I haven’t been able to find a single new bit of functionality in it so far. Perhaps it’s working more seamlessly in the background with OS X than the version of the operating system that was released four years ago, but with the way Outlook is crashing on me, probably not.
Why have these products–ones that many of us use every day in our personal and professional lives–evolved so little over the years? Think of all the innovation that has occurred in web development, mobile devices, streaming audio and video, and all the other areas of our digital lives that we take for granted. Then look at your word processor or spreadsheet program and ask yourself: isn’t this software taking ME for granted?
Is it hard to imagine that there is still room to completely re-imagine and re-engineer office productivity programs? I still remember back when Google launched in 1998, and my reaction then was: really—you’re going to create a better, faster search engine than AltaVista? You’re going to unseat InfoSeek, Lycos and LookSmart? I guess they did. But I also guess that office products aren’t as sexy as the challenges most web and mobile entrepreneurs are focused on, because it seems nobody out there is trying to create a new way for us to process words, point our powers or spread our sheets. Or maybe they are, and they’re just not succeeding at it.
What would that type of innovation look like? Maybe strip away all the clutter that 90% of us don’t use, and give us a bare-bones Word or Excel that is entirely cloud-based. Give it to us for free, but allow people to download add-ons for additional features. (How many of us really insert equations or use drop-caps on a daily basis?) Make money off the free version by populating it with ads that can interpret the type of document you’re working on. (“Need help with your business plan?” or “Find an accountant to help with this pro forma” or “I see you’re updating your resume—why not upload it to LinkedIn?”)
Google Docs is, I suppose, the best example of an effort to unseat Microsoft in the Office game. It’s free, and it even allows you to save documents in Office formats. And yet despite their constant threats that they are taking on Microsoft with new features and functionality, Google can claim 5 million businesses, while Microsoft estimates that Office has been installed on a billion computers. (Do each of those 5 million businesses have 1,000 or more employees, Google?) We’re waiting, Google, but I can’t find any evidence that the change is coming. (I looked on AltaVista, but it just redirected me to Yahoo.) And while Google Docs does offer a stripped-down version of word processing and spreadsheet functionality, it doesn’t really offer any new functionality.
Is there no innovation going on in this field?
In contrast, Apple released Apple Music this past week. It’s obviously not necessary software for business communication, but I would provide one small bit of business advice to compare with how I feel about Microsoft’s innovation capabilities: hold onto your Apple stock.
What are your ideas for a next-generation productivity software?