Office Suites and Search Engines
For what seemed like an eternity, the battle for mainstream software was fought over office suites and for primary AT over how well they supported office applications. No major software vendor could not have a suite even if it comprised little more than a bunch of marginally related programs held together by a bungee cord.
Around 1994, Perfect Office from WordPerfect Corporation and Microsoft Office from MS dominated the market but Lotus SmartSuite: 1-2-3 for Windows, Ami, a weird word processor that didn’t understand the WYSIWYG concept terribly and some random and long forgotten database program that I can’t recall anyone actually using still had inroads into professional environments where 1-2-3 remained king. Not to be outdone, Borland bundled Sprint, a really bad word processor, with Quatro Pro for Windows (which actually contained some code I wrote), Paradox and Sidekick for Windows which the Accessories that ship with Windows more or less obviated. Another oddity involving Borland was that Quatro Pro and Paradox were also the spreadsheet and database in Perfect Office through their partnership with the WordPerfect guys.
Soon afterward, WordPerfect was, in what would be the largest acquisition of a private company up to that point in history, was purchased by Novell for $1.1 billion. Novell knew a lot about selling complex networking systems to corporations but nothing about marketing works packages to end consumers. A few years later, Novell would sell the WP division to Corel for $100 million. I sent Bob Frankenberg, then CEO of Novel an email suggesting that the next time he wants to spend a net one billion dollars and get nothing in return that he should call me and I’d save him the headache of a lot of legal wrangling involved in such large transactions. Bob didn’t reply.
Meanwhile, the Borland board of directors forced Philippe Kahn, the heart and soul of the company out of the business and PK went off and started Starfish Software which he would later sell to Motorola for a bundle of cash. The new Borland leadership hadn’t a clue and, today, the company, after a few name changes, still exists and is called Borland again but no one can explain what they actually sell.
A little more than a decade later, the search engine has replaced the office suite as the top dog in the drive for dominance in the software world. Google clearly leads the pack but, in Vista, it seems that I can’t hit a TAB or do much else without landing in something that will search my email, my desktop, my hard disks my documents (inside and out) and nearly everything else one might accidentally misplace.
Searching the Internet is a really important task that grows more important as the web increases in content And complexity. The sheer enormity of data on the web makes finding almost anything popular nearly impossible as one will get more hits than they could read in a lifetime. Google seems to do a better job of this than anyone else but common search criteria, for instance, I searched for a friend of mine who is now a Catholic priest. Have you any idea how many guys named Father Kelly live in or around the New York and Boston areas with their huge Irish immigrant populations?
All of the big players seen to think I need a search button bar or control in nearly everything I own. Saving a new file in MS Word or, even worse, trying to open one, provides me with a bazillion search options. I’m a really organized guy. All of our PCs back up daily to our home server and the big back up disk backs up to another for redundancy sake. I have loads of files and folders that I find easy to navigate and the files for which I want to read or edit at any given moment. Does everyone else forget the names of their files and folders and just leave them strewn about their disks?
On the other side of the coin, while Microsoft tries to muscle its way into the search biz, Google is building an office suite. Thus, we’ll have MS Office and MS Live Search plus Google Office and Google searches to help us find the things we misplaced on our local computers and home networks.
Competition is great but it also seems that MS and Google are trading blows in a manner that could be more innovative way. Before MS got heavily into search utilities, they made a really good Office suite; before Google got into the office suite biz, they had a really great search facility. Why don’t these very rich companies try to go out and build new technologies that are currently not served very well rather than trying to grab a piece of the other guy’s sandbox. Go to the beach, there’s enough sand for everyone there.