Vista and Office 2007 spin tales from the Underground
Vision versus practicality
So what do we think at Freeform Dynamics?
Well, the important thing is not to generalise too much. Questions about whether Vista will be a success or not are largely irrelevant. Vista will enter the market by default through the OEM route which will take it into the consumer and small business segments relatively rapidly, both of which tend to just accept the operating system that is pre-installed on new machines. This in turn creates a market for third party developers to go at and perhaps a stimulus for some larger enterprises (travel firms, retailers, media companies, etc) to start exploiting the embedded service capability of Vista.
Based on past experience, common sense, and ongoing feedback from mainstream corporate IT departments though, we anticipate the entry of Vista into the large enterprise segment to be much more measured and controlled. It will happen, but relatively slowly. It took about four years for Windows XP to become genuinely pervasive in this segment, and at this moment in time we can see nothing to indicate that large scale Vista adoption will be significantly quicker unless Microsoft pulls some unexpected rabbits out of the hat.
But what about Office 2007?
Again, we need to beware of generalising too much. The full name for the new release is "The Microsoft Office System 2007", and there is one component in there, SharePoint 2007, that can easily confuse discussions about levels and rates of adoption. This is because SharePoint essentially fulfils two functions. Firstly it is a back end to what most people would traditionally think of as "Microsoft Office", i.e. the suite of desktop tools (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and so on). In this respect, it acts as a hub for collaboration, document storage/sharing, search and a range of other functions. However, SharePoint can also be used independently of the Office desktop components as a very respectable and capable portal environment for serving up either native .Net or composite applications to users through a browser.
SharePoint adoption within the business sector as a portal solution through the previous release is already significant, and indications are that the new SharePoint 2007 is a bit of a hit with early adopters that have migrated or otherwise taken it on board. And this is where things can get muddled. When Microsoft recently invited us as analysts to come and meet a range of organisations that had already deployed Office System 2007, it turned out they were all using SharePoint 2007, but none had yet adopted the new versions of the desktop applications.
Our analysis at this stage is that we expect SharePoint 2007 to gain traction rapidly in the market. Our research has shown consistently that there is a strong demand for portal solutions that enable composite application development and the creation of rich user interfaces that can be delivered through a browser. SharePoint delivers against this very well and we have already seen a tendency for it to be the default choice in many organisations, both because it is Microsoft, and therefore viewed as "safe" (you may disagree with this sentiment but many think this way), and because Microsoft was quite smart with its strategy of bundling basic SharePoint service capability with Windows Server 2007, which got many people "hooked" before they realised what was happening.
However, the jury is still out in our minds on the Office 2007 desktop components. At the moment, we are picking up little demand through our research, but the traditional Office applications do represent the centre of most professional users' desktops, particularly Outlook, so the notion of using this as an application delivery platform could possibly catch on as the market gets educated on the potential.
From the drill down sessions we sat in at the developer conference, Microsoft has done a great deal to enhance the way custom or party applications running in the "Office shell" can interact with the native Outlook, Excel, Word, etc. The updated APIs and development tools provide for much tighter integration and control, both at a user interface and data manipulation level, and the runtime execution side has been improved too, with new mechanisms in place to prevent applications interfering and conflicting with each other.
The bottom line though, is that IT departments generally remain sceptical, and while all of the stuff we saw at the conference really was quite impressive, it's the practicalities of transitioning to the vision that really matter. So if Microsoft does have any rabbits in that hat, now would be a good time to pull them out.