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April 08, 2009

Does Zoho Replace Word Like Wikipedia Killed Encarta ?

friendly : milk
angry : lawnmower

sad : frown
loving : elevator
   David : Goliath and
  Wikipedia : Encarta and
  Wii : Flight Sim as

Zoho : Word ??

Microsoft announced they are killing the Encarta CD-based multimedia encyclopedia. Encarta was a great product, it was updated, comprehensive, accurate, and reasonably priced. It couldn't compete with Wikipedia - which is updated, comprehensive, less accurate, and free.

Encarta was a powerful thing in its day (1993). For a lot of people, it was their first multimedia experience. I remember showing people how it could play video of President Kennedy's inauguration speech (Windows 3.1, if I remember right). It was made possible by the capability of the new CD-ROM media, and it was a reason to get a CD player for your computer. It was one of the first products that really established the home PC as a legitimate educational tool. Encarta was one the best things going before the Web and Google arrived. There's no joy at this demise.

What does interest me is that it's a sign that progress continues. Encarta killed the printed home encyclopedia and put a serious crimp in that industry. I remember when I was a kid, my parents invested in an encyclopedia for the house, and it was a big deal. Years later, Wikipedia kills Encarta using the same type of creative destruction through disruptive technology.

This doesn't happen in a vacuum. Microsoft has also recently announced it's killing off its Flight Simulator product, arguably one of their longest running games (released in 1982). I liked Flight Sim, it was (and remains) pretty cool. There's nothing wrong with the software; Microsoft has lost the niche to the better gaming platforms that are out there with more advanced interfaces (hello, Wii). I may actually go out and by the most recent version of FlightSim before it goes away.

I wonder if someday we'll be sitting around, drinking Chateau de Chateau and talking trash about how hard it was in the old days when you had to use Microsoft Word to generate documents. That damned paper clip!

Recently, the primary competitor for Word has been Google Docs, which is a free web-based word processing program. It works in your browser; it doesn't care what operating system (Windows 98, Mac OS X) you're using. You can store your documents on Google's server cloud. Don't want to spend $400 on Microsoft Office? Google offers a free compatible alternative for every Office product. Google Docs isn't as feature-rich as Word, and you need to be on the web to use it.

This week's NY Times article talks about Zoho Writer, a free browser-based word processor that you can use in the cloud and offline. Zoho is more feature-rich that Google Docs, it works both online and offline, and there's no advertising. The rationale for buying Word just got a little bit shakier.

Microsoft estimates that 500 million copies of Office are running on the world’s one billion Windows machines. Just like they'll never close down the steel mills, and we'll never be friends with the Axis, I'm sure somebody at Microsoft is saying hoping: "They'll never replace Word".

Somebody from WordPerfect will find the irony in this.

(EDIT 12:29 EDT ) Seems like this is getting a lot of hits out of New Delhi. That's pretty cool. Hello!


Anonymous said...

In an earlier post, you talked about scenario planning at an oil company (BP, maybe?). What do you imagine that scenario planning is looking like at Microsoft vis-a-vis Word?

Slate just issued their own version of "What if our conventional wisdom is incorrect?" challenging popular assumptions like Chinese stability, stocks as investment vehicles, etc. (

Vannevar said...

Hello Anonymous@10:04, thanks for the note!

I did read that Slate article yesterday, and - veering slightly off-topic - my takeaway was that I need to think (and then write) about, Are We Wrong About Home Ownership? It ties in with what I've recently read by Richard Florida about negative implications of home ownership.

Back to your question: If I'm Microsoft, I'm feeling good if internal planning is saying, What business are we in if Word/Office disappears? Between open-source and China's different position on Intellectual Property, I don't think Microsoft is going to be OK without Office. What have they got left besides Windows? But if they're not asking about that, then they're complacent and doomed.

Speaking of which, I just read a poll: 44% of developers who've seen Windows 7 like it. The fact that 44% approval is considered a success says a lot about Microsoft.

When I look at recent MS products (Silverlight? Another proprietary web package?) I don't see an indication that they get the web, or social media, or the likelihood that for a lot of people, the computer after-the-next-one is going to be a CellPhone-Netbook hybrid.

Thanks again for your note, I enjoyed it.

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