Was Microsoft's Office 2010 worth killing Clippy?

A real cash cow cloud app


Microsoft Office earned $4.2 billion revenue in the first three months of 2010, only a little behind the Windows client at $4.4 billion, according to the company's most recent earnings release.

The figures show the suite remains deeply embedded in the business world, despite the availability of free or much cheaper alternatives that perform many of the same functions.

Microsoft is hoping to keep the train on the rails with Office 2010 and its server companion, SharePoint 2010, both formally launched today. I've already reviewed the suite (here and here), and little has changed since the beta and release candidate.

The real question is this: has Microsoft done enough with Office 2010 to maintain its cash-cow business against three major competitors: Google Docs, OpenOffice and, well, Microsoft itself.

First, Microsoft. There's little wrong with Office 2003, the last version to sport traditional menus as opposed to the chunky ribbon introduced in Office 2007. The ribbon does have advantages, making buried features more visible, but it also consumes more screen space (especially not good on a netbook), and it increases upgrade friction. Toolbar customization is another sore point: the drag-and-drop Customize dialog in Office 2003 and earlier is better than the ugly Customize Ribbon dialog in Office 2010.

clippy

How we hated you, Clippy

With each new release, Microsoft adds countless new features it says make us all more productive. But how many new features actually matter? While researching this article and looking at Office 2010, I ran up Office 95 - the first complete 32-bit version. It's an advanced product for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations - and it launched fifteen years ago.

Much of the progress since Office 95 has been about refinement and ease of use, rather than functionality. Not all those efforts have been successful, and the history of Office is littered with new features, hyped as breakthroughs at the time, which have faded from view thanks to disuse or failure. We've had Office Binder, the Tip Wizard, Clippy the Office Assistant, Adaptive Menus, Smart Tags, and in Access, Data Access Pages, and Access Data Projects.

Office has also added new applications over the years. Outlook is the most used Office component according to Microsoft, despite its bewildering user interface. If Exchange is the email server, nothing else will do. OneNote is a nice extra, especially on a Tablet PC, and it's substantially improved in Office 2010 with multi-authoring and notes that link to other applications. InfoPath is useful for corporate forms, though it has little to do with creating and managing documents, which is the primary purpose of Office.

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