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01 September 2006

Chasm Microsoft

OK, time for the chasmic posts to begin. I figured picking on Microsoft would be a good place to start, specifically the products focused on improving how we find, share and use information (i.e. the stuff I'm interested in). Now I must stress the following curve is based purely on my opinion and perception of how organisations are adopting technology, and it's a first attempt so I may change my mind and move some products around, change their colour and add some of the missing bits (e.g. Visio, Project), but here we go...

(For a reminder about what chasm we are talking about, please check out the book note - Crossing the chasm)

First a definition of the colour codes. You'd expect anything on the left side of the curve to be green - that indicates it is growing and moving in the right direction. Anything black is stuck at one of the cracks or at the chasm. Anything red is going in the wrong direction. On the right side of the curve, it is much harder to claim green, so black is the normal colour. Green suggests a new market has been identified and the technology may jump to a new bell curve. Red means the market is beginning to shrink.

OneNote

OneNote is definitely only just finding its feet, but those who pick it up seem to love it. I have mixed feelings - I vary between using it a lot to banning it and reverting back to Word. The main reason is portability of content. Most of my electronic devices can read a .doc file (Word file format). Only one - my laptop - can read OneNote files. Given I travel about a lot, portability of content is crucial. The second issue has been formatting - it's slower to do in OneNote than in Word (I'm still a bit of a keystroke junkie). The new version (OneNote 2007) seems to be getting favourable reviews during its beta test, but it now needs to be picked up by the visionaries.

LCS (Live Communications Server)

LCS (instant messaging and online presence status) really ought to be in the early majority by now, but instant messaging (IM) is taking a long time to become officially accepted within business. Microsoft (and other IM vendors) need to build up the early adopter base and start showing more demonstrable value from adopting real-time communications. The benefits
are undoubtedly there. Having worked inside other organisations since leaving Microsoft, it amazes me how slow and difficult communications can be without IM, but people don't miss what they don't know. Hence visionaries are what LCS now needs, not just technology enthusiasts.

InfoPath

I toyed with giving InfoPath the red light. It's first release had major short comings, enough to even put off the innovators. The next version has a lot of ground to make up before trying to convince early adopters to give it a chance. It needs the technology enthusiasts to start playing with it more, testing and talking about it. Patience is required here.

SmartPhone

Windows mobile devices have certainly been successful over the past 12 months. I see more and more people carrying them when I travel in to cities. As people become used to having email on the go (thanks to Blackberry, rather than Microsoft) the market continues to grow. To jump the chasm, SmartPhones need a niche in the mainstream. I believe that niche is the calendar. Whilst other devices support synchronisation with content stored in Outlook, only Windows Mobile devices maintain the features, such as how you categorise and modify entries. Howard Rheingold (SmartMobs) correctly predicted that mobile phones will become remote controls for our lives. Lots of people rely on diaries to organise meetings... Microsoft needs to bring mobility into the fold of information work.

TabletPC

Just not sure about this one. It's being generous to place it in the early adopters space because I haven't seen a huge take-up within business. Portability and battery life are big issues for the types of users most likely to want a TabletPC, and those features don't seem to have been much of a priority for many of the TabletPC vendors. To attempt to cross into a mainstream market, TabletPC needs to focus on a niche and do it very very well. Handwriting recognition is not that niche, despite being the obvious choice. Writing digitally is still nowhere near as easy or useful as writing on paper. Form-filling, searching for information and reading it on the go are where TabletPC offers benefits over traditional laptops.

SharePoint

SharePoint (I'm lumping Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server together) has had phenomenal success since its v2 launch in Autumn 2003. The sheer number of partners specialising in SharePoint is proof that it just hurdled the chasm. But. The next jump will not be so easy. SharePoint is quite a tricky little soul to deploy and use, enough to put off the late majority. And I'm not sure the next version will convince them either, unless Microsoft gets partners to build very focused solutions on top of SharePoint (late majority prefer single-function, whole product solutions with minimal effort required to learn and use). There's still plenty of the early adopter market to mop up, but that green light could turn black and plateau.

Exchange

Exchange has a healthy market share of the messaging market, and continues to serve as a good reliable messaging platform. It's challenges to move forward now are somewhat outside of the product's control. Unified communications and voice-over-IP are technologies that have been talked about for a long time but themselves are still in the innovator space. As they gain acceptance, messaging platforms that make them easy to adopt and use will benefit, and that seems to be where Exchange is heading.

Word

Microsoft Word has an interesting future. Whilst many assume that everybody uses it, there are still areas of the market who choose alternatives, particularly in the analyst/academic space who write complex research papers. Collaboration features have also been a weakness within Word (i.e. the ability to merge and track changes, apply metadata etc.). Whilst the next version looks to sort out these issues, new challenges have appeared. There are now many alternatives for writing content. OneNote threatens to eat into Word's market share. Blogging tools are appearing (including one from Microsoft - Live Writer) and wikis are becoming the new playground for collaboration on content - merging documents into the team space where they are stored. And one of the main reasons for sticking with Word is being eroded - currently, many different portable devices include readers for Word documents by understanding the .doc file format. The next version of Word has a new file format. Word risks becoming the Achilles heel of Microsoft Office.

Outlook

For many people, Outlook is the one application that remains open on their computer throughout the day, regardless of whether they use other Microsoft products (Exchange) for messaging and calendaring. It's been a solid performer and I don't think it is going to be threatened by the online alternatives that Web 2.0 claims to be cooking up. Too many people continue to work in a world that doesn't have pervasive online connectivity - offline tools, particularly ones used to organise your life, will continue to be popular. Getting things done is still a challenge for many, and Outlook continues to try and help.

Excel

Spreadsheets remain popular as tools, often for functions beyond what they were designed for. I know a fair few people who use Excel for scheduling and project management, despite there being other specialist products providing these capabilities. Business intelligence (BI) software has existed in a niche world of data analysts. Microsoft is making a big push to bring BI into mainstream every day activities, with Excel in the thick of the solution. It's almost enough to turn it to green - is that a blue ocean on the horizon?

There you have it, my first chasm. Next one in the works - well, it's just got to be Web 2.0 ;-)