Workers don't itch to ditch Microsoft ... yet

Would workers really go for a Microsoft-free office? IBM and Canonical made news yesterday with their announcement of a virtualized software bundle that puts Lotus office applications on a Ubuntu Linux desktop at some dirt cheap prices. But an analysis piece today in ABC News points out a little flaw in the reasoning -- workers are creatures of habit. And today's crop has had over a decade of using Windows and Office and simply doesn't itch to ditch them.

IBM has been trying to break Microsoft's hold on the desktop since that hold began. (Does anyone remember OS/2 ... IBM's attempt at a GUI OS to compete with Windows?) The bundle that IBM/Canonical is offering will cost $258 per user for an enterprise-class system that includes Linux, Lotus Symphony office productivity software, Lotus Notes e-mail, Sametime instant messaging and other collaboration tools. All of this would be delivered via desktop virtualization.

This might be a decent option for companies needing to outfit purpose-built computers shared by multiple workers, such as factory floors, hospital floors, 24-hour customer service centers. Yet for white collar workers that "own" their PCs, and have all their own methods of working with Microsoft Office, it is a non-starter. Plus, enterprises would need to consider the costs of the cutover and the costs of new systems management. Today, it adds up to a "Thanks but no thanks, IBM. While it's nice to have choices, get real." -- at least as far as the enterprise is concerned.

And yet the clock is running out on Microsoft because it is not converting the next generation into Windows/Office users. Windows and Mac PCs that ship with trial versions of Office -- then demand a young student fork out between $60 to $150 to continue to use the software -- drive students into the freebie waiting arms of Symphony and Google Docs.

So Microsoft's advantage in the enterprise will last only as long as an aging workforce remains an enterprise's biggest population. The first version of Microsoft Office was introduced in 1989. Workers that have been using it for about 20 years are not likely to give it up, but they are likely to retire pretty soon. Meanwhile, today's crop of teens, college students and young adults are as likely to prefer Google Docs or to be so well versed on technology interfaces that retraining from one to another is no big deal. For instance, everyone under the age of 30 maintains multiple social networking sites, each accessed with a different interface depending on which device is being used to access. Kids today can figure out a new piece of software or operating system in a matter of hours.

As that interface-agnostic generation grows in the workforce, loyalty to software based on habit exits. That gives Microsoft only a few years before the Microsoft-free office because a desirable option for the start-up, SMB and, eventually, even the enterprise. If Microsoft doesn't quickly entice the young generation with open source products that work better than the competition while offering unique functions, instead of asking "Microhoo?" one day those kids could be asking "Microsoft who?"

Visit the Microsoft Subnet web site for more news, blogs, podcasts. Also see:

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