Hosted Office? Been there, done that, no thanks!

Take it from me, no one in their right minds who has a choice will ever voluntarily opt for an exclusively hosted desktop.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor on

I suppose hosting OpenOffice might be one way of fixing its allegedly dire startup and file-opening performance, but that's probably the only thing you can say in favor of the idea. If you don't believe me, ask Optus. The Australian telecoms and Internet provider just announced it's withdrawing its Online Office service — which offered hosted Microsoft Office and a suite of other application services — after 18 months of failing to attract customers.

Optus is just about the last proponent of hosted Office to see the light. Most others who've tried either pulled out long ago or went bust in the process of trying to make a go of it. Hosted Office, like the network computer and the $100 PC, is the sort of thing people always think would be great for other people, but would never dream of using themselves. Every pundit, entrepreneur and technology vendor who opiniates about these computing-solutions-for-the-masses is full of how great they'll be for small businesses, clerical and shopfloor workers, the disadvantaged and the impoverished. But never once have I heard any of them say, 'Hey, I use it myself. Never use anything else.' Heck, even Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison still have PCs in their offices.

The reason there's no point in hosting office suites, as I explained last month, is that they consist of applications designed to speed the work that people do sitting alone in their cubicles.

"Where the Web comes into its own," I added, "is in collaborative applications, such as jointly authoring a report or an article or designing a presentation in co-operation with a virtual team of domain experts."

That's why David Berlind is absolutely right to pick up on Jonathan Schwarz's remarks the other day about OpenOffice and AJAX. Fortunately, Sun's president and COO seems to realize there's no point in "browserizing" OpenOffice, as David puts it. Instead, concentrate on enabling people to collaborate on documents far more efficiently than is possible today.

There always will be some poor souls — I think of them as 'captive' users — for whom corporate policy will condemn them to the purgatory of hosted personal productivity environments. To the delight of these poor victims' IT taskmasters, IBM last week introduced the Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure platform, which combines VMWare virtualization software with Windows XP remote-client software from Citrix Systems to deliver up to 15 desktop environments from a single blade server. There will always occasionally be circumstances that dictate the delivery of this form of ultra-locked-down client environment. Just be glad that, if you're IT-savvy enough to be reading this, you're unlikely ever to be on the receiving end of it. Take it from me, no one in their right minds who has a choice will ever knowingly opt for an exclusively hosted desktop.

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