Saturday, June 06, 2009

Google wave shows the future of the Corporate Desktop

Last weeks presentation of Google Wave got me thinking again about the corporate desktop. I honestly believe that something like Google Wave will be the future of the corporate desktop. I say "something like it" because I also believe that Microsoft is realizing what Google Wave means to their business and that they must be scheming on some sort of reply. Before I explain why Google Wave is the "Wave of the future" (oh, that is why they are calling it that), I want to have a quick look at the history of the corporate desktop.

The PC (personal computer) started as a toy for what we now call geeks, people really interested in computers. It wasn't until Lotus123 came out that things changed. With Lotus123 anyone with a PC could do "spread sheets", something that until then was done either on paper by people with a lot of time on their hands (mostly accountants) or on large main frame computers. At about the same time WordPerfect became available, allowing people to use their PC for word processing, something that until then was done only by secretaries or typists. These two applications running on a PC let to the introduction of the corporate desktop.

Microsoft, who until then was only selling the Windows/DOS operating system and some games, got into action and launched Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint, later to be referred to as Microsoft Office. As usual with Microsoft it took a few releases of Office to be good enough to take away market share but eventually they did and became a virtual monopoly on the desktop.

One of the smarter moves of Microsoft was to include free of charge an email program called Outlook into the Office bundle. Once all corporate desktops where running Microsoft Office, the Microsoft sales people only had to inform their customer that if they wanted to take full advantage of Outlook that they should install a new email server called Exchange. Exchange quickly took a huge market share away from Lotus Notes (by IBM), and SendMail (an open source based company) and not just because of their integration with Microsoft Office but also because of their integrated calendaring tool which was built into the corporate version of Outlook.

So now with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Calendar, SharePoint and instant messaging, the corporate desktop was transformed into a collaboration tool which allows people in the corporate world to work together: they create documents with Microsoft Office, store them in SharePoint, email the documents using Outlook, and they use the Calendar feature of Exchange to set up meetings to discuss these documents. In other words a full set of nicely integrated office collaboration tools.

The only black horse in the race for the corporate desktop was the enterprise Wiki. Companies like SocialText and JotSpot (acquired by Google) filled an interesting void in the intra-office collaboration space. They allow you to create a Wiki which is basically a web page that can be edited and viewed by anyone who has access to it. Wikis are a great tool for sharing information and for collaborating on creating this information. What Wikis also introduced was the notion that you can use the Internet to collaborate without having to use email and maybe most importantly that you only need a browser (any browser) to be able to do all of this.

So at this point in time you can make documents and spreadsheets online in a browser, you can read and write email in a browser, you can send instant messages via a browser, and you can collaborate via Wikis or message boards (or via Google Wave) in a browser. Microsoft of course is aware of all these things, because in the end the biggest threat to them is that all you really need is some simple PC or laptop running Linux and Firefox and you can do all of the above without the need for ANY Microsoft products on the desktop.

So what about Google Wave? Well if this 1 hour and 20 minute demo is anything to go by then if executed properly a Google Wave (like) technology could replace: email, instant messaging, Wikis, blogs and even Microsoft SharePoint and all you need is a browser running on some operating system. So yes Wave is a real threat to Microsoft's corporate desktop monopoly. It does everything the Microsoft tools do and then some.

There are of course other things that will happen once the corporate desktop turns into an "empty PC" ( a PC running only a browser and storing all its data on the cloud). If there are no applications and no data on the "empty" corporate desktop then there will be no need for traditional Anti Virus solutions, no need for data backup, and no need to manage the desktops, because if you desktop fails then you just use another "empty" PC: your data and applications are all in the cloud anyway. I will write more about the "empty PC" and the consequences in a future blog.


  1. Cloud computing has great possibilities but I am deeply concerned about the issues with cloud computing. I don't see most companies jumping right into Wave without several concerns being addresses.

    What if your internet connection goes down or is extremely slow?
    What if the cloud system experiences a crash and can't recover your data?
    Who owns the data since it isn't stored on your computer/network?
    Will you need export controls if the data is stored outside the US?
    How secure is the cloud system?

    It'll be interesting to see how this sorts itself out over time.

  2. As Sun already envisioned it, "The network is a computer"...

  3. Even if Wave is a threat, it isnt a threat anytime soon. Wave represents a drastically new way of managing information, and will surely take a long time before it sees wide adoption, especially in enterprises.