Microsoft’s plan for the future: The Ribbon

A few days ago, I saw the leaked screenshots from Windows 7.  Microsoft Paint and Wordpad now “feature” the ribbon bar, just as Office ’07 does.  It finally occurred to me: Microsoft isn’t stupid.  It’s not like they didn’t recognize that the switch to the ribbon in Office ’07 (with no alternative interface) would drive users to OpenOffice.  They are simply investing in their future user base.  They want to lock users into the new system.

This is Microsoft’s plan:

Think about your average Joe Shmoe user for a minute.  Joe has always used Microsoft Office 2003.  One day, Joe’s friend Pete tells him about a “free of cost” application called OpenOffice.  Pete claims that OpenOffice should be easy for Joe to learn, because it works just like Microsoft Office does.  He also mentions that OpenOffice is “Open”, meaning that it won’t ever limit functionality nor restrain the people who he can communicate with.  Joe ends up trying OpenOffice and, realizing that it does indeed work very much like the Microsoft Office he is used to, ends up switching.

If Joe’s friend Pete had never told him about OpenOffice, he would have eventually ended up switching to Microsoft Office ’07 and Windows 7.  While he didn’t want to have to learn the new system, he recognized that it was the future of technology.  If he didn’t learn it soon, modern technology would leave him behind, and he would no longer know how to use computers well.  By the time Microsoft Office ’11 and Windows 8 came, he was all prepared for the upgrade.  Both of these pieces of software used the ribbon as well, so Joe felt right at home.  As time went on, Joe came to accept the fact that the ribbon was “the way computers work”.

Now that Joe is a Windows 8 and Office ’11 user, lets say Pete tells him about OpenOffice.  Joe sees the interface.  It is just like that version of Microsoft Office he used 10 years ago.  “Why can’t they innovate?” he wonders.  After inadequately trying OpenOffice, he finds that he doesn’t remember the old cascading menu system very well anymore.  It has been years since he last used it, and he can’t figure out where anything is.  With the “you get what you pay for” attitude, he goes back to Microsoft Office ’11.

Microsoft recognized that people hate change, and the only way for change to happen is to force it upon people.  They understood that they would be losing several users when they switched to the ribbon, but they also realized that if they were ever going to make a change like this, now would be the time.  Now, Microsoft can afford to lose some users.  In the future, they believe it will help lock in users to their platform.  In a way, it is like investing in the future, only doing so with their user base.  It is a strange technique: using people’s unwillingness to change as a technique to lock people in.  Combined with the Openness piece, it is a great way for Microsoft to make sure its users stay.  It is really a genius plan.

As technology advances, people are beginning to demand openness.  This demand will increase greatly in the future.  The “Openness Movement” is just beginning.  Governments, schools, and individuals who recognize the importance of openness are beginning to gravitate toward Open formats.  Many of them haven’t realized its importance yet, which is why the Openness Movement is still in its infancy, but in the future, this adoption of Open Formats will drastically increase.

Microsoft knows this, and has suddenly become “open”.  Microsoft Office will support ODF (or, at least a proprietary fork of it).  All of the Microsoft products support OOXML, which the ISO says is open.  In addition, all of the Microsoft ads say Windows is “life without walls”.  “Without walls” equals “Openness” for most people.

So, how does the Openness Movement tie into the ribbon?  Once Microsoft has established their ribbon user base, they will also have all of this garbage behind them that they claim is “open”.  Those with the most money can usually convince people whatever they want, so people will believe that Microsoft really is open.  Microsoft has applied for a patent on the ribbon.  They are currently licensing the design to other companies free of cost.  The only prerequisite is that the use of the ribbon is approved by Microsoft.  The goal is obviously to make sure competitors, especially the Free Software people, don’t get ahold of it.

Will this plan work?  Possibly.  I can’t see much interest arising in adding a ribbon bar to OpenOffice or any other Free Software application.  That’s not really the point, though.  Microsoft has a huge number of tricks up its sleeve.  This is just one of those.  There are still several more that nobody has figured out yet.  Microsoft can pay for a huge amount of thinking power to figure out evil plans like this.  Hopefully, none of those plans will affect the freedom of of those users who really want it.

Published in: on September 28, 2008 at 9:45 am  Comments (4)  
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Will someone please kill one of Google’s heads?

Ah, Google. They run all of their servers on GNU/Linux, so try to give back to the Free Software community. Notice how I said “try”. Google is sort of like a two-headed monster. One head looks like a cuddly penguin who just wants to spread freedom.  This head started GSoC and GHOP, supported Software Freedom Day, and promoted openness through projects such as Android.  The other head looks like a vicious freedom-eating butterfly, ready to make money with proprietary software.  This head made Google Earth proprietary, used Flash for Youtube and Google Video, and prevented the other head from using the AGPL. It is obvious which head said “do no evil”, and which head invalidated that motto.

Google’s heads settled on an agreement. They would make an “open source” web browser named Google Chrome. The source code would be publicly available under a Free Software license, but it would require a 400+ MB download and 10 GB of space to compile. It would be available for both free and non-free platforms, but the non-free platform (that built only under a non-free compiler) would be released before the free one even built properly.

I found a Windows computer to test this so-called “Google Chrome” on. The installation was kind of a pain, because the install file didn’t have all of the required components. It had to download additional stuff during the installation. I suppose, though, that’s what you get when your system doesn’t have dpkg or yum… The only benefit I found was the speed of the V8 javascript engine.  It was noticeably faster, and javascript speed tests confirmed my observations.  The javascript caching made this already fast javascript engine even faster.

Cutting a few milliseconds off a stress test isn’t going to make me switch browsers anytime soon, though, not even when that browser will eventually support my operating system. It is a fad.  Some sites have reported that 2% of users are using Google Chrome. The purpose of Google Chrome seems to be to provide a framework for transforming the “traditional” operating system to a web-based one. Dumb idea. Firefox already works great for web services. That’s all we need. Google is spending all of this time trying to figure out how to integrate their services into the desktop. They come to the conclusion that all they need to do is A) make it available when you aren’t connected to the internet, B) make it faster, and C) make it not look like a web browser. For the majority of people, this doesn’t cut it. There are just so many other glitches. People are constantly saying “everything will be web-based” and “tomorrow’s operating system will be a web browser”. I don’t buy it. The world isn’t web-based yet. Until all computer users have internet access, nobody will switch completely to the web.I hope that everything will never be web based.  The biggest problem with becoming completely web-based is competing companies. If you use Company A, you can collaborate with people who use Company B and Company C. Company D only lets you collaborate with Company B, and Company E has a partnership with Company F. Data will be locked off in a similar way to proprietary standards today, but there will be a new problem. Open File Format advocates today use the analogy of sending your most valuable data off to a company, and hoping they give it back. This would literally be true with a web-based world. Think about it: your data is on some remote server, in some SQL database, run by some web application that nobody can look at or change. How do we know Google’s code isn’t relying on “average users” not knowing that the password-unprotected administration section is located at:  (You would be surprised at how many well known sites do this!)  Do we trust Google, or any other company for that matter, with our data?I predict the future will be semi web based.  After a while, more projects like EyeOS will sprout up.  They will allow you to use online word processors, operating systems, or whatever, but they will let you host them from your own computer.  People will have complete control over their data, yet they will be able to access it from anywhere and easily share it with anyone.  Google won’t lead us down this path, though.  Google is like any company: it wants money.  It will continue to use Free Software as a platform for locking users into its products.

The evil butterfly head won.

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 12:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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