As Outlook churns, is it WordPerfect's revenge?

How ironic that WordPerfect pops up with a new online-friendly beta on the day that users are reporting terrible Outlook performance from Office 2007 on Vista. It takes me back to the days when people thought OS/2 would beat Windows.

Seems like early adopters who've rushed to install Windows Vista and Office 2007 are suffering from a bad dose of indigestion in their Outlook inboxes.

It's astonishing that in the midst of a serious challenge from a new generation of Web-native office suites, Microsoft should give its rivals a helping hand by handicapping its own product so badly that it performs worse than an online product on a slow dial-up line. Apparently the workaround being suggested by Microsoft is to reduce the size of the inbox to around 150MB. The other workaround of course is to open a Gmail account and get a Google-searched inbox of over 2.1GB in size.

In a delicious irony that will rub even more painful salt into Microsoft's wounds, WordPerfect has a new version out on beta release today, one that elegantly straddles both the online and offline worlds (David Berlind has some video and screenshots). The news takes me back twenty years to when I first started working in the computer industry. WordPerfect was the word processor of choice for PC users. Microsoft Word was barely usable and Office was just a marker on Microsoft's product roadmap. Then came OS/2, the multitasking, windows-based operating system that was IBM's future platform for the PC. WordPerfect (then an independent corporation) threw all its development efforts into creating a new product that would preserve its market leadership as users transitioned to OS/2.

Of course as we now know with the benefit of hindsight, users transitioned to Windows instead. While WordPerfect and all the other application vendors were manfully grappling with the challenges of developing for OS/2, Microsoft's application developers were putting their all into Word and the other products in its new Office suite. At the same time, their operating system colleagues were working behind the scenes with Intel and Compaq to make sure that Windows outperformed OS/2 on the next-generation 386 family of chips. IBM, immersed in meeting all kinds of perceived and real demands among its enterprise customer base, neglected basic metrics like performance and ease of installation (I wonder, does that story sound familiar today?). When OS/2 finally emerged in production, Windows ran rings round it. At a stroke, every application vendor that had worked so hard to bring their products out first on OS/2 suddenly discovered they'd backed the wrong platform and now had to play catch-up to Microsoft's own products. None of them succeeded.

I'm sure at the time the people in charge at Microsoft wondered why IBM failed so dismally to pay attention to such basic criteria. Perhaps now they'll understand.


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