Well, looks like Vista (the OS previously known as Longhorn) has fallen back into it’s old ways and has slipped again. 2007 is the year of the Vista now, allegedly. I doubt anyone familiar with this story will be surprised.
My reaction? Firstly, disinterest. I’ve discovered that I find it really hard to care when Vista arrives, because I’ve still yet to find anything which makes we want to run out and buy it; and most of the people I speak to feel the same way, even hardcore techs. The claims that Vista will be necessary to run the latest PC games is frankly laughable - as if publishers (except Microsoft Game Studios) are really going to write off most of their potential market like that. Give it 2 years and maybe I’ll care. Or maybe not.
Secondly, I feel sorry for all the MSFT engineers who have worked on this project. Will it ever be worth it, or will it just remain one of those scarring experiences they will be drowning with whisky for years to come? With most of the headline features being cut (except *that* interface), and endless delays earning them ridicule in every public gallery, this can’t be a good project to be working on. And judging by this very popular MS employee blog, it really isn’t a lot of fun to be an MS developer these days, and it looks like many would rather be working for Apple. And who can blame them?
Vista seems to have suffered from a combination of excessive navel-gazing, crippling beauraucracy and a fatally flawed design decisions (like not tossing out the NT kernel and starting from scratch). Apple have proved what a clean slate can do and are now reaping the benefits - I hear they have a metadata-storing, database filesystem ready for OSX 10.5, one of the many features canned in Vista. And of course OSX already had *that* interface. No wonder MS engineers are lamenting that their company is being given a spanking.
I also notice that Mr Gates has been making another pitch on Office 2007, again majoring on how ISVs can create much more rich applications tied to Office in the future. Now, I don’t know about any other developers here, but when I have to make my applications interact with Office, I feel dirty. Office is a good product, but the very fact that I’m forcing a user to purchase a pretty expensive product in order to use my application feels all wrong - not just philosophically, but financially - that’s an overhead that’s going to make your application less cost competitive. Plus, tieing any application to Office limits where it can be deployed - forget Linux, forget OSX (mostly), forget portable devices (mostly). In my view, this is not a good design decision. Lighter interfaces to the Office XML formats can no doubt be used, but I’m betting those will be restricted in some way, either by platform, by patent or by EULA - maybe all 3.
Let’s face it - Office is an application. It’s a good one, but its wave has crested already. When you have a solid, reliable truck, adding a spoiler on the back really doesn’t add anything to its core function, but MS is trying to sell that truck to you anyway. Trying to turn it into a ‘platform’ in order to milk it beyond its useful scope is a sign of desperation. Collaboration platforms are moving away from fat client applications, and away from constraining, single-vendor systems. MS is doing its best to lash them down, to keep one of their biggest cash cows in the frame for as long as possible - and who can blame them - but it is eventually going to fail. ISVs with MS ties will undoubtedly answer Mr Gates' call, hoping to bask in the secondary financial glow that perpetually surrounds MS, and gullible customers who don’t know any better will buy into it for a while. But this isn’t a strategic direction - sooner or later these platforms will be completely free - and I don’t mean as in beer, I mean free of ties to platforms, operating systems, applications or vendors. Truly open standards will eventually prevail - it may take a while, and undoubtedly Office 2007 will fight that off for a while longer, but it is inevitable in the long term. In ten or fifteen years time I’m betting we’ll find it just as quaint that we used to have proprietary applications to access our business documents as it is quaint to look back now to when we used to have IPX/SPX, and proprietary systems to access remote information rather than IP, HTTP and pals. You can quote me on that. 😀