Are Microsoft Office and OpenOffice irrelevant?

The office suite is a relic of a bygone age--one that may not amount to billions in Microsoft profits for much longer.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Boy Genius Report has posted screenshots of the new Microsoft Office 11 for Mac, suggesting that it looks "absolutely delicious."

Do you care?

I don't mean that in any anti-Microsoft fashion. I'm just asking, "Do you still care about an office productivity suite?" I mean, in the traditional sense of that product category?

I don't, and I'm not exactly sure when my concern for Microsoft Office (or OpenOffice, for that matter) dissipated. At some point in the last few years, e-mail became my office productivity suite, with a sip here and there of Google Docs. I just don't need Office anymore. Not most of the time, anyway.

Hence, when I got my new laptop, I didn't bother getting a copy of Office, preferring instead to install OpenOffice for those odd moments when I have to review a spreadsheet. One that isn't sent to me as a Google Doc, that is.

While I'm sure I'm not alone in this, it's no secret that Microsoft continues to print billions of dollars in profits each quarter from its Office business. But I wonder how sustainable that business is.

At some point consumers are going to notice they don't use Office very often. Perhaps never. (Yes, CNET points to people who "plan race course tracks in OneNote [and] people designing needlework in Excel," but these are the exceptions, not the rule.)

And at some point, CIOs are going to realize that the vast majority of their employees don't spend any time mucking around with pivot tables or drafting documents. At most, people use Outlook, and buying an entire Office license to get e-mail feels like overkill.

We're the e-mail generation, but not necessarily Outlook's progeny. We're the SharePoint crowd, but one that would probably prefer to spend time in Facebook. Give us Twitter and IM, and we can forgo drafting a letter for weeks.

Demographics are shifting away from Office-like communication, it feels to me, and Microsoft has been slow to keep up. So, too, has its open-source competition, with OpenOffice.org apparently hiding from Microsoft technology like Bing rather than competing by changing the rules of the game.

Office is too slow--or, rather, how we communicate with it is. It's a wonderful product for its day and age, but that time appears to be fading.