Data Control and Privacy

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2006-08-28 Print this article Print

Concerns"> Also vital to consider is the degree to which tools like Word and Excel have become, to a large extent, the equivalent of extensions to the Windows operating system from the viewpoint of many custom application developers. Microsoft Office facilities for automation, and for integrating complex data manipulations or workflow operations into the same familiar look and feel idioms that users already know, have made the Word document and the Excel notebook the equivalent of high-level data structures that many custom applications use to generate formatted and easily edited output in contexts that range from document production to software development.
This means that the installed base of Microsofts Office applications is one of enterprise custom code as well as of user skills, facing would-be entrants with a double-edged weapon against their encroachment on Microsofts turf.
Working both for and against Microsoft is the issue of who owns the work product that the user creates. Working with applications delivered as a service means running the data in work products through more different physical places, and many more different owners cyberspaces, than working with applications that are fully contained on a client machine. The slow pace of adoption of authenticated and encrypted e-mail is bad enough, but at least there are tools that can scan attached Microsoft Office files and warn, for example, that a document is being sent out with multiple users revisions (especially deletions) not assimilated, or with fast-save artifacts accessible to anyone with the wit to open a document with a text editor instead of with Word. When the entire data stream of work in progress is being run through externally hosted applications, the legitimate concerns of data control and privacy become substantially broader and more intense. Working against Microsoft, though, is end-user and enterprise resentment of Microsoft document formats that are not fully disclosed or that harbor proprietary or perhaps royalty-bearing protocols. These (i) create pressure for across-the-board application updates, even when many users have no need for new features, and (ii) limit the ability of governments and other users to meet goals of vendor neutrality in the delivery of content to the largest possible universe of users. The ugly and noisy elephant in Microsofts living room, though, is the groundswell of interest from enterprise and campus system administrators and from self-supporting individual and small business users for office applications that dont consistently tilt toward power and convenience and away from security and stability. The rogues gallery of devastating malware attacks is largely a catalog of the ways that Microsoft task automation features were suborned— with startling ease—by the first malware author who thought to try it. Applications that are designed to live on the Net, and to offer convenient but secure collaboration and to transmit content with no technical possibility of also bearing vectors of malicious attack, are therefore finding a receptive audience. Click here to read about Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols thoughts on Googles office suite. What, then, are the marching orders for Those Who Would Become, so to speak, Official Alternatives?
  • They must be just as attractive and intuitive as Office 2007, and no more disruptive in their departures from interface conventions that people already know.
  • They must make efficient use of bandwidth, and take advantage of the continuing bandwidth explosion, to be just as interactive without needing to live and run on a rich client.
  • They must use rapidly advancing standards-based technologies of scripting and Web service interfaces to enable powerful and cost-effective customization;
  • They must offer security in managing work products and intermediate data, while also offering the long-term assurance and competitive vigor that come with standard document formats.
  • They must clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that they recognize and protect against the threats of the always-connected computing environment. All of these things are possible, and that means that Office 2007 is threatened as no version of Office has ever really been before. Click here for an archive of Peter Coffees columns. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.

    Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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