Thoughts on Office 2.0 (Reprise)

By | October 17, 2006

(FYI: I’ve made some enhancements/corrections based on Zimbra’s participation at the Office 2.0 Conference; pointer below. May or may not be worth a quick reread.)

Yes, the “2.0″ hype is getting out of hand. However, just as with Web 2.0, the technology evolution we are participating in is sufficent to at least justify the discussion. So while I am still dubious about the Office 2.0 moniker, there is no doubt that the Web authoring, sharing, and collaboration technologies under the Web 2.0 umbrella are allowing us to do many of the things we used to do within proprietary Office 1.0 desktop applications, and to do so from any browser on the net. So before you dismiss Office 2.0 as yet another buzz word du jour, please consider some (modest) over-generalizations:

Office 1.0 Users: Power users (information workers/professionals)
Office 2.0 Users: “All hands” (most everyone who browses)

1.0 Model: Client-centric (desktop applications)
2.0 Model: Network-centric (web applications)

1.0 Sharing (in the small): Pass by value (Email), pass by reference (Public folders)
2.0 Sharing (in the large): Adds the ability to use the Internet to pass by value (Email, VoIP, IM, …) and (effectively) by reference (XHTML pages/hyperlinks, Wiki, Blogs, iCalendar/CalDAV, iTasks, WebDAV, …), all with access control

1.0 Navigation (sans meta-data): Folders
2.0 Navigation (with meta-data): Hyperlinks, indexing & search, tagging, mash-ups …

1.0 Editing: Via proprietary desktop applications; WYSIWYG with change tracking
2.0 Editing: From any browser; WYSIWYG (via Ajax authoring) with versioning and history

1.0 Data types: Proprietary
2.0 Data types: Open (XHMTL, ODF, microformats, XML such as via Service-Oriented Architecture/SOA, REST, SOAP, etc.)

1.0 Content: Relatively static, with intra-desktop dynamic components
2.0 Content: More dynamic (including web application-generated content, SOA mash-ups, …)

1.0 Multi-document: Object Linking & Embedding (OLE), Bonobo, …
2.0 Multi-document: Hyperlinks, Ajax Linking & Embedding (ALE), mash-ups, …

(No doubt the above takes a rather expansive view of Office 2.0, but then again Office 1.0 arguably covered most all computer-assisted authoring of content. Please also note: The above content would have proved substantially more compelling in an HTML table authored, say, with a WYSIWYG Ajax editor, like that included within the Zimbra Documents applications.)

All this is not to say that Office 2.0 can or should supercede Office 1.0—Zimbra spreadsheets, for example, will not support pivot tables any time soon. I believe our goal should not be to reproduce Office 1.0 functionality on a Web 2.0 platform, but rather to realize an easier to use (a.k.a. less complex) collaborative authoring and sharing model that scales with the Internet. Office 2.0 users should be able to (1) author content from anywhere; (2) appropriately reuse and adapt (mash up) content (both static and dynamic) already published on the Internet; and (3) securely collaborate with others in whatever ad hoc fashion best meets their needs. The fun with “Office 2.0″ is that thanks to the maturing of the underlying Web 2.0 technologies and near universal success of the Internet, this vision is close to realization.

One thing I’m not yet happy with is that the above description does not draw a very compelling line between Web 2.0 and Office 2.0. Some technologies are more obvious: for example, Ajax, RSS, and SOA/XML fit under Web 2.0, while Ajax authoring and ALE arguably fit more naturally under Office 2.0. Given the emphesis on collaboration and authoring inherent in the Web 2.0 definition, I think these two potential categories are going to be tough to keep separate. After all, both Office 1.0 and Web 2.0 are about authoring rich content—the difference is that the former is focused on the desktop and “sharing in the small”, while the latter is targeting the network and “sharing in the large”. Office 2.0 then may merely mean leveraging Web 2.0 technologies to do many/most (?) of the things we used to do in Office 1.0.

(Some of this thinking came out our our panel session at the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, and our Web 2.0 Kongress session in Germany the day before. Just doing our bit to keep the airlines in the black :-).)


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