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Office 2.0's monopoly networks

I think the economics mean that people will prefer to access Office 2.0 using low-cost, unreliable broadband and cover the lapses with smart client technology.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

My posting last week about Why Office 2.0 will never go wholly online sparked quite a debate, both in TalkBack and the wider blogosphere. I ruffled some feathers, especially with my opening paragraphs, which perhaps explains why not everyone read right through to the end. Dennis Howlett (despite reading all the way through) tells me I should never say never. I think people need to keep their hats on and remember that what I actually said was, never say wholly.

As I expected, I was immediately taken to task for failing to realizeThose who want all their applications to reside in the cloud should beware of what they ask for that all the current glitches in network coverage will be resolved as soon as the technology matures, just like in the early days of electricity distribution. But as I pointed out, the electricity network is a poor analogy:

"... the Internet is already far more ubiquitous than electricity, which we have to carry around in batteries whenever we want to go mobile. It's economically feasible to deliver electricity at five-nines availability because it's only delivered to certain places. The ubiquitous Internet will always have patchier availability."

Others pointed out that even electricity cuts out from time to time. And here's another flaw with the analogy; the Internet was designed to be able to operate even when it's overloaded or disrupted. It's got far more resilience than the electricity distribution network, but it achieves that resilience by tolerating far wider variations in performance.

This leads me to think that economics are the key determining factor here:

  • What is the cost of consistently providing network response times that are acceptable for productivity applications?
  • Will that cost be low enough to allow ubiquitous, universal provision?
  • Is that cost lower or equivalent to the cost of developing smart client technologies that effectively cover up for network inadequacies?
  • What is the economic incentive for network providers to invest in infrastructure capable of ubiquitous provision?

The final point is the reason why the heading on this posting refers to monopoly networks. I'm sure that Office 2.0 carriers will be keen to provide ubiquitous provision if it locks users into their network. Who has that kind of network? Google does, as does WebEx, and of course several telecoms carriers, all of whom are desperate to ration access to network applications. Those who want all their applications to reside in the cloud should beware of what they ask for.

Given most people's predilection for low-cost broadband access (consumers are even being offered free broadband in the UK these days), I can't see those monopolies taking off, because I think people will prefer to pay for low-cost, unreliable broadband and cover the lapses with smart client technology. But perhaps this is where the consumer market will diverge from the business market, and enterprises will indeed pay more to participate in highly reliable, high-performance, lock-in networks, whereas consumers will opt for the cheaper, smart client-enabled alternative.

None of us knows how this is going to pan out, but we owe it to ourselves to consider all the possibilities. Sorry to those Office 2.0 enthusiasts who feel I'm raining on their parade. I'm just as exuberant as everyone else about the possibilities, but let's keep the debate within rational bounds.

PS: Jeff Nolan gave me a brief preview a couple of weeks ago of his new venture, which he announced today. Composite application platforms like Teqlo are the really revolutionary aspect of Office 2.0, irrespective whether they execute in the cloud, on the desktop or (more likely in my view) in a hybrid of the two.

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