The Evolution of the Office Suite

Ten years after the PC revolution, desktop productivity software began to appear as part of suites.  In 1989, Microsoft introduced the first such offering with Microsoft Office on the Macintosh platform (a PC version followed in 1990). 

Time for the office to evolve

Time for my office to evolve?

It probably didn’t occur to the early designers that they were taking the first steps to integrate functionality that would – a few years later – start to positively impact the productivity of hundreds of millions of office workers.

One outcome of what became known as the suite wars was that Microsoft vanquished its competition (WordPerfect in word processing and Lotus 1-2-3 in spreadsheets) and became the dominant desktop productivity offering.

The concept of an office suite was originally more marketing than technology.  Bundling a word processor (the most popular desktop application) with a spreadsheet program (the second most popular) and presentation software would capture three “sales” all at once.

Up until that time, software used for desktop productivity purposes, be it processing words or calculating figures, was decidedly single purpose for much of its history.  At some point after PCs and networks became the de facto means of managing documents and finances, it occurred to developers to share certain functionality, such as a spell checker, across multiple programs.

Then technology such as OLE (object linking and embedding) was developed.  This allowed other programs to provide limited functionality within a host program, such as the generation of a chart or graph in a word processing document.

Today we take office suites for granted and Microsoft Office (in all of its iterations) has become the most widely deployed software application in the world, with an estimated 600 million users worldwide.

Microsoft has not, however, been sitting still.  Later this spring, the company will launch Microsoft Office 2010, a suite into which it has invested upwards of $2 billion in development costs.  Indeed, few people are aware of the extent to which the company conducts research and studies the users in its attempts to improve the knowledge worker’s experience with software and leverage what people can accomplish with the tools.   We have been testing the Office 2010 beta and will be reporting on it in an in-depth report shortly, but all signs point to a greatly improved user experience with far more support for knowledge sharing and collaboration than previous versions have offered.

Incidentally, by the time Microsoft releases Office 2010, many of its software engineers will already be working on the next version (code-named Office 15), an application that knowledge workers will not see until 2012 (presumably in beta form) at the earliest.

In the meantime, expect an in-depth look at What’s New in Microsoft Office 2010 next month in this space.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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