Office XP looks like a winner for having the wisdom to kill Clippy and replace that helpless helper with smart tags and task panes that are actually useful. But will neat new productivity and group features be sufficient to get Office XP a home on corporate desktops? Given that the removal of an annoying character will hardly be sufficient for corporate managers to fund an Office upgrade in these turbulent economic times, Microsoft finds that, once again, it is the companys installed base that is its biggest competitor.
After the last few years, when a combination of technology stumbles and management miscues made Microsoft look like an ungainly, mean-spirited giant, the company has entered the new millennium in a remarkably strong position. Being late to the dot-com party allowed the company to avoid most of the dot-bomb hangover.
The company is starting to shift to the service provider subscription model just as IT departments are getting interested in outsourcing and the first round of service providers are running out of cash.
And any recent reading of the judicial tea leaves points to a wrist slap rather than a breakup for its monopoly maraudings.
Whats next for Microsoft? Combine the billions in the companys cash hoard and its angst over the AOL-Time Warner merger being given a free judicial ride, and you can see why the rumors over Microsofts supposed interest in acquiring AT&T Broadband may have substance.
Bill Gates has only to look to his old co-founder, Paul Allen, to realize that value can be achieved once you own the cable into the customers home.
When the subscription model works, the economics are astonishing. AOL can jack up the price of its monthly service and suddenly find millions more flowing to its bottom line. MediaOne can feel free to lift its high-speed access rates safe in the knowledge that many of its competitors are no longer around or are still trying to deploy a competitive technology.
While with Office XP Microsoft has shown that it can still get a decent upgrade of its core productivity suite in a box and out the door, it still has not shown that it has figured out a way to take on the AOL Time Warner juggernaut.
But as Novell, Sun and many other companies have learned, Microsoft plays with baseball rules that give it as many swings at the ball as it desires.
Im happy to see Clippy head to that same resting place as Microsoft Bob, and Im pleased that Microsoft is using the strategy of useful features for an upgrade path rather than a forced march via incompatibility with previous versions. But this revamp of Office is Microsoft of old, and Im still waiting to see the new Microsoft.