by Eric Grevstad
In case you missed it, Microsoft announced this week that it's giving up on numbered releases such as Windows 95, 98, and 2000 or Office 97 or 2001. The next version of the Microsoft Office suite, due at midyear, will be called Office XP. And the next, targeted-to-be-in-time-for-Christmas release of Windows, now in beta testing under the codename 'Whistler,' will be Windows XP.
Setting aside the Mac Davidians who howl that Microsoft is plagiarizing Apple's decision to name Mac OS X instead of 10, this bold move raises two questions. The first is what the inevitable service packs or 0.1 upgrades will be called: XP2? XP(b)?
The other is, of course, what XP stands for. Microsoft says it's short for 'experience,' specifically the 'rich and extended user experiences Windows and Office can offer by embracing Web services that span a broad range of devices' using common XML data formats. Under this scheme, XP is a step toward Microsoft's cosmic, still-several-years-away .Net vision, also known as 'We deny that the traditional desktop OS and applications are no longer the center of the universe, but we're going to control everything you do with the Internet just in case.'
For example, are you running your business on Microsoft's recently introduced MSN Explorer? Probably not; the integrated browser/e-mail/instant messaging package is a challenger to AOL's consumer client software for PC novices and technophobes. Microsoft's business e-mail (and calendar) program, as you know, is Outlook.
But MSN Explorer's strategic moves, such as switching a user's default e-mail from Outlook Express to the MSN Hotmail Web-based service, foreshadow Office XP, which the company's press release proudly states, will integrate Hotmail and MSN Messenger into Outlook.
By the time you finish saying, 'Hey, I don't remember asking for that,' you'll be halfway toward Microsoft's ultimate solution to its pesky revenue problem, which is the large percentage of customers who dare to do without regular, costly upgrades such as moving from Office 97 to Office 2000. The solution is to offer Office as a service you subscribe and log onto, instead of an application you buy and install.
I'm uneasy about Microsoft's giving this insidious Office plan the same name as the OS release formerly called Whistler, because I'm actually excited about the latter. As the long-awaited merger of the Win 95/98/Me and NT/2000 branches, Windows XP promises to give small offices the stability and performance of Win 2000 with the superior software and peripheral compatibility of Win Me, and without 2000's layers of fat or overhead for managing giant enterprise networks.
By year's end, I think your small business should be running on Windows XP, your Web server should be running on Linux, and your staff should be using Corel's forthcoming, state-of-the-art yet good-old-fashioned WordPerfect Suite 2002 instead of Microsoft Office. When it comes to my advice, XP stands for 'chutzpah.'
I can't throw down the gauntlet any harder than that, can I? Let's debate Microsoft's motives in the Small Business Memo thread in the online discussion area.
Eric Grevstad is Editor at Large for Home Office Computing and Small Business Computing Magazine.