The Fuzzy Blog has some interesting, and potentially disturbing info on the next revision of MS Office. It seems that the addition of a Rights Management System for Office docs could cause all of us grief:
News.com has a very, very interesting article on Microsoft expanding their rights management tool, RMS. And what it makes me think is that we could well see the file format for Microsoft Office 2003, the next version of Office, change dramatically. What they are doing is allowing a document to have an access control list (ACL) associated with it so that only users identified in that ACL will be allowed to read the document. Specifically when I read this:
"What we've done here is put persistent protection in the document itself," Nash said. "Even if the file is no longer part of the file system or the infrastructure of the company, the protection is still there as part of the file."
Oh happy day - files that can't be read! Imagine the fun of mergers with this in place. MS will likely see an immediate uptick in revenue from this:
What I have to think is that the underlying file format for an office document is going to change because of this. How else will this new feature be supported? And this will be both a financial godsend for Microsoft and an absolute disaster for their customers. I've lived through this before and here's what happens.
- Microsoft releases new version of Office with new file format. We saw this in Office 97 which had a different Microsoft Word format than Office 95.
- Every new computer comes bundled with the new version of Office and manufacturers (like Dell) that bundle Office don't even offer the old version of Office.
- Joe Worker or worse Job Boss gets his new computer from IT and creates a new document. He emails it out to 10 people who need it. Unknowingly he uses a feature which requires the new file format.
- The people that get it can't read it and go scream at IT. IT screams at its management. And the company ends up being dragged unwillingly to Office 2003, updating hundreds if not thousands of desktops in the process.
Yeah, that's about how it will go in my experience. But I think this may be MS outsmarting itself. Two reasons. First, according to MS, the first rev of this won't support offline use. Just imagine all the power users (high dollar salesmen and execs) creating an uproar when the doc they need to edit is not available during the 7 hour flight to Europe - and there's no tech support to fix it during that flight. That's a lot of angry high end types. Second, imagine the havoc that will be created in merged entities - none of the docs will cross old boundaries - and if each doc carries the information embedded, it will be a true nightmare for the IT staff to fix.
I've always thought that even in the absence of anti-trust rules, large, powerful companies eventually get in trouble when they overreach. This could be one of those things for MS.