Microsoft’s ugly Live Spaces rollout not only caused the company problems, it also preceded another round of Office-is-moving-to-the-Web pundit hee-hawing. And that was precipitated by the release of Windows Live Writer.
You can download the beta now (and I have), and the thing works reasonably well. It boils down to an offline WYSIWYG blogging tool. There’s a Word-like text interface and wizards for setting up and publishing to your blog, hooking to an existing blog, manipulating photos, adding Web links and reference tags and even adding interactive maps from the Windows Live Local service. It can even post to other blogging services besides Spaces.
However, Live Writer has generated a small bout of pundit yodeling. The controversy starts with folks who immediately jumped on Live Writer as a full-on replacement for Microsoft Word, and how it’s all another sign that Microsoft is actively moving from a desktop client version of Microsoft Office to a Web-only version, and how that would alter the universe beyond salvation.
These rumors are usually fueled by folks who haven’t really looked at the evidence; in this case, that would require actually using Live Writer for a while. First thing you’ll notice is that it’s not a Web application at all; it’s merely a highly Web-aware desktop application (hence, the need to download the software, folks).
Sure, the interface has a Web 2.0 look to it, so it’s conceivable that Redmond might one day make it the default edit interface for Spaces. And from there, it’s further conceivable that Microsoft may offer it as a basic online word-processing component to an online Office suite. But that’s a lot of ifs from a company that’s still trying to figure out whether the whole online software thing is a real user requirement or just a media fad.
Further, even as a desktop client, Live Writer can in no way compete with Word one-on-one. Word is the result of years of corporate customer feedback; Live Writer is a mewling infant. Somebody in Redmond would have to have a hole in his head to think about replacing one with the other.
Sure, in a pinch, I could make use of Live Writer as a word processor. And if that happens to be using a Web browser while I can’t get to my regular desktop tool suite, I might be mildly grateful. But odds are that I’d still have to reload whatever document I created in Live Writer in Word to finish the job -- just like anyone doing serious spreadsheet work would likely have to reload anything created in Google Spreadsheets in Excel.
Online office suites are a cool idea. They’ll grow and find their niche in time. But they’re not a threat to the desktop office suite market, either today or anytime in the near future. First, because you can’t make real money on them right now. Second, because they simply don’t have the features to compete and because the software they’re built on is also still evolving and unreliable. Third, because there is no such thing as a ubiquitous, available-anywhere-anytime Web connection. Not yet. And until that shows up, desktop tools will continue to be a necessity. So relax about the end of the universe and just enjoy watching all this technology develop. i