Origami and Writely: An Odd Couple to Break the Office Monopoly

By now you have probably read about Origami, Microsoft’s “micro-tablet” or “ultra-mobile” PC that will shortly become available from manufacturers such as Samsung at prices as low as $600. Microsoft Watch offers an excellent summary.

You have also read about Writely.com right in this blog. Writely– a.k.a. the “Web 2.0 word processor” that runs on a server as you work in your browser — was recently acquired by Google. Writely is part of a new wave of free Web services you can use from your browser, no matter what type of computer.

Both stories hitting at the same time begs the question: what will happen when Origami devices meet Web services? One of the biggest drawbacks I see with Origami devices is the lack of adequate disk space. Fill that sucker up with desktop applications, and you have no more room for music and videos. It makes more sense to skip the costly desktop applications and use these free Web services instead — nothing to install, nothing to use up your precious disk space. The services work with all modern file formats and keep copies (even older versions) of your documents automatically on their servers. They are designed to be convenient, and they are free.

I wonder how Microsoft will entice Origami manufacturers to continue to bundle Office with these devices? Will Microsoft essentially give Office away? The cost of Office is too high for a $500 computer. Manufacturers should be tempted to forego applications other than browsers (and, of course, games) and encourage their new customers to log into Writely and other services as they become available this year.

Even better: I hope a manufacturer (Apple?) will introduce something like an Origami, only with Linux. It could rely on Web services for everything from email (Gmail) and word processing (Writely) to backup and storage. And it would be less expensive than Windows-based Origami devices.

Consider this view of Google’s acquisition of Writely — from a comment by Gary Edwards quoted in Dan Farber’s ZDNet blog:

Writely is a masterpiece of an ODF AJAX engine, able to upload any OpenDocument file for collaborative work, publication, and/or distribution. Highly structured information in, highly structured collaborative information out. All of which is Internet ready.

The killer for Microsoft is that they now face an open stack of highly structured, Internet ready information services that with the flick of the download switch could easily stretch across the over 450 million desktops that make up the mighty Windows monopoly base, over every Linux, OSX, and Solaris desktop, up through Writely collaboration services, through the Google mash of services and information and out across the Open Internet, and back again.

Amazing what can happen when you finally are able to separate information from application, package it in a highly structured self describing open XML file format, and put the power of Google behind it.

So, why not a cheaper Origami-like device from a manufacturer that runs Linux and Web services? And what about Microsoft’s own Origami becoming a leverage for Web services that eventually dethrone Microsoft Office? It could happen. The Origami devices will probably be just as vulnerable to malware as ordinary Windows PCs, and I doubt that the new legion of Origami users will pay attention every Patch Tuesday to keep ahead of security breaches. But if Origami users skip the Microsoft desktop applications (Office, Internet Explorer, Outlook, etc.), they stand a fighting chance of keeping their Origamis more secure.

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