Sunday, May 25, 2014

Never Send a Word Doc, and Other Trouble for Microsoft
Joe El Rady

I don’t own a printer. No printer, no pens, no paper—the 21st century! Printing is quaint… no antiquated. In a world of desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, who needs paper? Need to jot a quick note, use your notepad app. Need to keep detailed notes and notebooks/collections, use Evernote or OneNote. I try to receive only soft copies of documents. Anything important that arrives as hard copy, I scan. I used to email outgoing documents, now I post to the web or onto a cloud server and send a link—the modern form of “publishing”. My main rule: never send a Microsoft Word document.

Word is a content creation tool, not a content distribution format. If you want to collaborate with the recipient, then send a Word Doc; however, if you want to send a “published” document, Word is not the proper format. PDF is the modern equivalent and format of a “published” document.

Of course, I’m not writing an entire post on e-etiquette and modern standards. This is a business and economics blog. The use of Word (as it was intended) as a content creation tool rather than a content distribution format, hurts Microsoft. A main impetus of Microsoft’s growth during its fervent period stemmed from positive network externalities. People used Microsoft products because other people used them. As such, Microsoft facilitated a standard of interchange.

For its part, Microsoft recognized this, and built all sorts of additional, mostly unnecessary, and generally unused features into Word such as document permissions and credentials management. Microsoft built a whole infrastructure around SharePoint and SharePoint Server to allow enterprises to save, publish, and distribute “document libraries” and manage access to those libraries in a granular way. Nobody I know uses any of these features (and I have a corporate background). Microsoft expected that their content creation tool would also become a content management and distribution tool, and so, even people who did not need Word and all of its bloated features, would purchase it, since it served as a medium of exchange.

This strategy worked, but has recently started to stutter. First, modern methods of “publishing” include posting to websites and sending links from cloud servers to documents that are PDFed. In fact, PDFed is a verb now. Even if you insist on emailing documents, you usually email or receive PDFs. Second, people increasingly rely on mobile: tablets and phones. Until recently, Word was not available for Android or iOS, so people started to move away from reliance on it as a distribution method. In fact, use of iOS and Android has shown people that content creation tools such as GDocs and Pages work just as well as Word, and in some cases, better! Third, those realizations, along with the halo effect of Android and iOS pushing people to use Google Apps and OS X, have further driven people towards GDocs and Pages respectively. Even the last bastion of network effect, the need to collaborate, no longer pushes Word sales since, in many ways, other tools, such as GDocs, provide better collaboration for content creation.

As Microsoft struggles to find its way under a new CEO and diminished dominance in a world moving away from PCs as well as big corporate IT and moving towards mobile and BYOD, it needs reconsider how to market and maintain much of its software offering, starting with Office. Microsoft makes three kinds of products: garbage, good (even excellent) but not irreplaceable; and, irreplaceable. Unfortunately for Microsoft, only Excel lives in the third category, and Word, lives in the second.