The Office Gets a Facelift

Pity today’s poor productivity applications.

They’re the mundane workhorses at work and at home: programs that fire up as soon as we turn on our computers in the morning and remain front and center until we shut down at the end of the day. Although we’d be nowhere without our word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software and e-mail clients, we rarely take the time to appreciate their impact. They run our businesses and keep our kids on track, but we often ignore their significance because they don’t ship with eye-popping 3-D graphics or seven-channel surround sound. No one, after all, stands around a Word document waiting for a stunning demo of how to build an automatically updated table.

Like a best friend, productivity software is always there for us. Its basic premise hasn’t changed a whole lot in recent years because, frankly, users haven’t demanded it. They know what they like, and they derive comfort from using tools that have looked, worked and even felt the same ever since they first began using them. While some features get added and tweaked from one version to the next, the basic formula is always plain, familiar vanilla.

All this is about to change. Microsoft Office, long the dominant player in the productivity application market that it essentially invented close to 20 years ago, is about to undergo the most radical evolution in its history. Web-based competitors like Google Apps and Zoho are increasingly challenging the assumption that productivity software is sold in a…



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