Sun, RSS and Apple Challenge Office Dominance

Messaging and Collaboration editor Steve Gillmor sees RSS, Apple and Sun challenging Microsoft's Outlook business.

Predicting the demise of Microsofts flagship office is a little like being a Red Sox fan rooting for an upset of the Yankees. The eternal cry of "Wait til next year" could just as easily emerge from supporters of new challengers such as the Open Source Applications Foundations Chandler or Suns Java Desktop System, joining the vanquished Corel, Novell and Lotus of yesteryear.

Just as the Yankees perpetuate their supremacy by leveraging their dominant TV market share to buy new talent, Microsoft has used its desktop operating system clout to fend off challenges.

But a disruptive technology is emerging that could change everything. For my money, its RSS (known alternately as Really Simple Syndication or Resource Description Framework Site Summary). Im not talking about the embedded Outlook plug-in of todays PC; Im talking about a technology that could be as disruptive to personal computing as the digital video recorder has been to television.

The DVR started as an early-adopter tool for the media elite and is now seeing further adoption in satellite TV packages. Next-generation TVs will ship DVR-ready. RSS, too, began as a tool of the tech elite. Generated by Weblog authoring tools such as the pioneering Radio UserLand, RSS feeds were consumed by a growing circle of cross-linking bloggers and a spillover audience from the trade press. But vendors and developers soon saw the opportunity to deliver content directly to the technical audience, and users saw a way to route around the growing inefficiency of e-mail and Web browsing.

Suddenly, the Windows advantage as the essential platform for applications was neutralized. In a pre-RSS world on a ThinkPad, I spent about 40 percent of my time in the browser, an equal amount in my e-mail client, and the rest in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Now, on the Mac PowerBook, I spend 40 percent of my time in NetNewsWire (the leading Mac RSS reader), 20 percent in Entourage X (the Mac Office mail client), an equal amount in the Safari browser, and the rest in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Its by choice—and a bit of couch-potato inertia—that I still use Entourage X and Word. Mac OS Xs "Panther" includes beefed-up versions of Mail and Text Edit that are sufficient for most of what I actually do with their Office counterparts. A stand-alone Keynote presentation tool is a worthy replacement for my PowerPoint needs, but its OS Xs system services that deliver today what "Longhorn" promises for tomorrow.

Next page: Apples innovation sparks Sun.