Worldwide webification

By: Jeff Russell

Abstract: The Web-based office suite vs. the great outdoors -- who will win? Our "Leading Edge" correspondent handicaps the race. By Jeff Russell.

Worldwide webification

The web-based office suite vs. the great outdoors -- who will win?

I'm writing this on my laptop, sitting outside on my deck, enjoying an absolutely beautiful day. The sun is shining, a breeze is blowing, and bright autumn leaves are falling from the trees. The temperature is perfect. I don't have my cordless phone with me, and I don't own a cellular anything. I have my high-speed dedicated ADSL hooked up inside, but I don't have a network connection available outside. 

I find writing under these conditions especially suitable for a discussion of Sun's newly-purchased StarOffice suite. Now that Sun has announced its plans to port a version of the suite to the Web, Microsoft is planning to do the same. The big difference is that Sun's suite will be free and Microsoft's suite won't be. So who do you think will hit the suite spot?

I don't have any use for either of them. I'm the old-fashioned type who wants the stuff on my computer or not at all. If I subscribed to all this thin-client, server-based hoorah, I would not be out here today. I'd be downstairs, inside, working in my office. That's fine most of the time, but on days like this, it's the great outdoors on my deck in the rocking chair for me. 

Of course, you could argue that not everyone gets to work the way I do. I work at home, when and as I feel like it, with everything set to suit myself. (Yes, I am rubbing your nose in it. There's a point to this, and I'll get to it eventually.) The only reason I own a laptop is so I can do things like this. Most people have a company-owned laptop, if they have one at all, and otherwise work in their cubes in a fairly crowded central office.

So maybe a Web-centric office suite will work for you, but it won't work for me. And my way will eventually win. Why? Because this era of worldwide, nearly instantaneous communications has taught people that it is possible to make time and space for a real life. We haven't quite balanced work and leisure yet, but it's coming soon. 

The problem with Web-based anything is that it requires me to be somewhere with a connection. That seems to me to mean that the computer is working me, rather than the other way around. I'm not dismissing the cellular efforts, but for data it is just too slow, unreliable, and expensive right now. I don't want my life dictated to me by someone else's profit margin. This is my life and it's all I have. I need it to be comfortable and enjoyable. 

Why should I have to be in an office somewhere else? I just write stuff. When I'm finished, I simply send it over the wire to my editors. I don't have to listen to some democratically-chosen radio station or, worse, the routine noises of people trying to work. My home is my castle and I'm comfortable here. I can work inside or outside. I can listen to the breeze rustling the leaves, or the radio, or even the TV, though I can't imagine why I'd do that.

And the only tool I need for my work is my own, legally licensed copy of Microsoft Word, which I will soon export to text so my editors can convert it to HTML so you can read it-most likely from a desk inside, because the beast has not yet been wholly tamed.

Someday, most of us will work when and as we like, subject only to our self-discipline. And we will most likely work from our own licensed copies of software on our own high-powered and inexpensive hardware. We'll be able to work from home, on the bus, walking down the street (using Microsoft Cerebral Implant), standing on our heads or swimming in the ocean at the beach. I look forward to the day when computers will truly serve us-not dominate us, as they do now.

In the meantime, Sun and Microsoft are wasting a lot of money because their eyes are on their profits. If their eyes were on your comfort level, the profits would follow automatically. That's the way it works. Make things hard for me and I will ignore you, ridicule you, or yell unkind things at you, but I will not thank you and I certainly won't pay you.

From sixty feet or so above the ground, two squirrels distract me from my writing. Fighting and chittering loudly, they chase each other across four trees, driving a small blue woodpecker from his perch.

Microsoft and Sun are up against heavier competition than they realize.

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