Fairfax to let MS Office ‘wither away’



blog Remember how publishing giant Fairfax announced plans several years ago to dump Microsoft’s Office and Exchange platforms for most of its 11,000 staff and switch to Google Apps? Well, this week the company’s chief information officer Andrew Lam Po-Tang gave the CeBIT conference a detailed look at what that process actually looks like inside the company. It turns out the demise of Microsoft Office is not so much a bang but a whimper for the publisher. Computerworld tells us (we recommend you click here for the full article):

When people asked if he would take Office off desktops, “I fell on the ground laughing,” the CIO said. “Do you have any idea how much that would cost, how much angst that would create and how pointless it would be? … We will just let those run to the ground and not replace them.”

To my mind, this approach makes a lot of sense. As Andrew Lam Po-Tang points out, Fairfax has already paid for its Microsoft Office licences. The degree of cultural change and training required to get rid of them would be extreme. So instead, the company encourages the use of Google Apps while getting off the upgrade cycle for Office. Eventually, staff will get used to the new paradigm and Office use will decrease more and more — especially as younger staff join the workforce — staff who will often never have gotten used to Office in the first place.

To put it mildly, this is a bit of a nightmare scenario for Microsoft. What we’re seeing with Fairfax is proof of the idea that Google Apps, with its limited functionality compared with Office, is nevertheless good enough for most staff and for most uses. If this ‘withering’ trend is happening at Fairfax, where Office use is gradually decreasing and upgrades are stopped, then I can also see it happening at other organisations. Microsoft is definitely doing a good job of countering it with Office 365, and there is no doubt Office will still be the dominant suite for the foreseeable future. Microsoft is not in trouble in any sense yet.

But this is starting to look like the thin edge of the wedge. Google Apps is now posing the first serious challenge that Microsoft Office has seen since StarOffice/OpenOffice.org died on the vine around a decade ago. It will be fascinating to see how far the trend goes. Personally, I prefer Office over Google Apps (although I prefer Gmail over Outlook/Exchange). I also do a lot of writing in Apple Pages. But in terms of the overall market, what I like to see most is strong competition, so that each vendor is held in check by its rivals from gaining too much power. It’s good to see that happening in the desktop productivity software market. Finally.

Image credit: Mohamed Nanabhay, Creative Commons


  1. Yep, I only really use Office when opening email attachments (and there are usually alternative options if necessary.)

    Oh … I work at Fairfax btw.

  2. Opening attachments in email is scary enough, But opening them with Outlook! Danger Danger Will Robinson.

  3. Great idea, Andrew, the only thing I suggest is proceed with caution.

    Fairfax will be moving from one all encompassing monolith to another all encompassing monolith.

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