By Dale Vile
The desktop productivity space has been dominated for many years by Microsoft Office.
Open source alternatives and cloud services like Google Apps have made some inroads, but most mainstream businesses are still hooked on Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel to one degree or another, with Exchange acting as a back end hub for email, calendaring and so on.
We have surveyed respondents on this many times in the past, and while many make a good case for trying to break the Microsoft stronghold, the predominant view has always been that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Contributing to the inertia are concerns about the cost and hassle of migration, the impact on users who have often grown up with the Microsoft toolset, and the perceived level of disruption that would arise from document compatibility issues both internally and when dealing with customers, suppliers and partners.
Of course the number of organisations that have successfully migrated to alternatives confirms that none of these things are showstoppers in practice, but when you have limited resources, a backlog of project work to be done, and resistance to change within the user base, you have to choose your battles wisely.
But things have been changing of late. Users have started to appreciate the benefits of being able to work across multiple devices – smartphones, tablets, home PCs and other personal equipment. The old model of tying your activities to a single suite of software running on a couple of Windows machines is being challenged quite strongly as part of this. Furthermore, the scope of the functionality required is extending to include more real-time collaboration (IM, web conferencing, etc) and more sophisticated ways of managing and sharing documents and other information.
And this isn’t just us saying this. Feedback from more than 800 respondents in a recent study confirmed that the trends are real.
So does this open the door to looking more seriously at alternatives? After all, there are now quite a few cloud-based alternatives in particular that would tick all the boxes if used together. Well the research suggests that many do indeed think it’s time for a change.
Unlike before, though, it’s no longer a case of simply switching horses and continuing as usual. Employees have become used to the idea of cloud services, mobile devices and different ways of working, and taking a different approach means it’s easier to deliver against increasing expectations. Put simply, the case for disrupting the status quo is now much stronger, and is arguably even imperative.
Of course none of this has escaped the eye of Microsoft. The Office 365 solution combines cloud services, local software and a new commercial model in an attempt to tick all of the same boxes, with a promise of backwards compatibility with traditional Office tools thrown in to alleviate that concern.
So has Microsoft hit the mark?
Well only a relatively small number of respondents in our study had direct experience of Office 365, and while things are not perfect, most reported a net positive outcome from their adoption. Meanwhile, we also picked up continuing use of Google Apps and open source office, particularly among smaller tech-savvy professional services firms, and indications that IBM is active in the large enterprise space with it’s cloud-based collaboration offering.
All in all there is a lot going on in this general area, so if this is an area of interest, we would encourage you to download the full research report.
Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.