Opening up OpenOffice

Over this past weekend Sun’s president and COO, Jonathan Swartz, blogged about the value in volume. It appears that his post was a prelude to today’s announcement by Google and Sun (AP) and confirmation of speculation yesterday (ref. [1], [2], [3] – “creating more pipes to get at information”, [4], etc.).

Setting aside some of the hyperbole and bias that have sprung forth today, today’s press release does make me wonder if the tail will soon wag the dog. Have services reached their tipping point? Are they now leading applications and not the other way around?

I’m reminded of an email I sent over three years ago (!) on 7/3/2002 to my GM at the time about software-as-a-service and service-oriented architecture, or SOA:

Do you visit Starbucks regularly? How about the movie theater? Sporting events?

Imagine if these vendors told you that you had to pony up a year or more’s worth of mocha/latte purchase, movie or game tickets (plus concessions) before you could enter the premises; however, if you did so, you’d be able to enter regularly thereafter without additional cost. But please be advised, if you bought the matinee package, you could only see matinees; if you purchased tall lattes, venti mochas or Frappuccino├é┬« are out of the question. Would you still pay your money to Starbucks, etc?

Some folks might, under these terms, but Microsoft and others are betting that more enterprises are more inclined to pay for what they need (or even what they don’t), if they pay smaller amounts for more discrete, value-added services. The days of Microsoft being able to annually charge its customers $400~500 for the next Office application suite upgrade are drawing to a close. Office .NET is a realization of this by Microsoft.

Consider the modern phone with its support for caller ID, call waiting, etc.

[Telcos allow their] customers to choose to pay-as-you-use or to pay a flat monthly rate for unlimited usage of such features. The customer has the phone, but the phone company has the centralized service. The phone is only as good as its service.

Microsoft, for example, is positioning Windows in all its various forms (PC, PDA, XBox, WebTV [now Media Center and IPTV] and soon the Tablet PC) as the software equivalent of the modern phone–fully capable of hosting rich services from multiple enterprises. .NET is akin to phone lines–tying together desktops with servers, delivering software services on demand just like your local utilities. Microsoft talks about “software as a service.” he computing platform (e.g. PC) will be defined by the services it supports and presents.

“Office .NET” isn’t on the plan of record with Microsoft today. Office 2003 may have begun the conversation by Microsoft as the de facto information work front-end to software services, but this is not the same as true utility computing.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to today’s news.