Since publishing my story about Microsoft's plans for a future Internet-based version of Office, I've been inundated with information from a variety of sources in and close to Microsoft that, when pieced together, form a coherent strategy for the future of Office.
It goes something like this: Microsoft's short-term answer to Sun's Internet-enabled StarOffice is a simple bundling of existing technology. The company will work with application hosting partners to make Office 2000 available to users over the Internet via Terminal Services, the GUI terminal emulator that's built into Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition and Windows 2000 Server. To make this work, one or more partners will need to pony up some pretty serious server farms, but the icing on the cake is that any client--be it Windows, Macintosh, Linux, whatever--will be able to take advantage of this deal. The reason? Microsoft's Terminal Services partner Citrix provides its communications technology and client software, which is far more agnostic than Microsoft's Windows-only approach. So a Linux user, let's say, will be able to run Office 2000 today, over the Internet, by simply making a small download and installing the Terminal Services client software.
This approach to "Internet-enabling" Office will likely impose a pay-as-you-go charge to users, but that's still up in the air. Some sources seem to think that an announcement could made as early as next week at Internet World, but don't be surprised if that's held back until the Windows 2000 RTM announcement in November. That way, Microsoft could actually tout this endeavor with its partners as a new "feature" of Windows 2000.
Microsoft's long-term approach to re-making Office comes right out of my own playbook: It's the plan I recommended to the company during the Office 97 beta (and again during the Outlook 98 and Office 2000 betas). According to sources, a second Office team has been working on a fully componentized version of Office since Office 97 shipped. This version of Office, which has been completely rewritten from the ground up, will require only that the user download and install a small executable enabler. Equally small components will be downloaded and installed on demand when the user selects a feature that isn't currently on the system. That way, each user has a fully customized version of Office that is literally tailored to the way they work.
One aspect of Office 10 that goes beyond my original specification for the product is its Web personality. According to at least one source, Office 10 will be fully Web-based. I haven't been able to confirm this aspect of the product yet, but it does make sense when you consider Microsoft's current push to Web-enable everything they produce.
If Microsoft is able to pull off its plans for Office 10, it will finally provide Windows users with the product they've been begging for. Even though I spend most of my day using Word, I find myself using only a small percentage of its features, for example. And there is no way to remove all of the unneeded features from any application in the current generation of Office. As a result, I've got hundreds of megabytes of unnecessary files on my system, as does every other Office user on the planet. Office 10, which is due as early as next fall, should eliminate this problem.
Here's to hoping that it does.