What a letdown. When word began circulating that Google and Sun Microsystems were poised to make a joint announcement, speculation abounded that Sun's StarOffice (or its lesser open source sibling, OpenOffice) had been somehow transformed into a Gmail-like suite that Google could deliver as a service. Microsoft, your Office fatware is history! The network computer lives!
The reality, announced recently at the Computer History Museum, was barely an announcement at all. Only one concrete item: Sun has agreed to bundle Google's browser toolbar with Sun's Java Runtime Environment (which is downloaded 20 million times per month, according to Sun).
"Going forward, there's lots more we can do. They have a lot of smart folks at Google," Sun CEO, Scott McNealy, said.
Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, a Sun executive himself for 14 years until he left to run Novell in 1997, agreed that it was a banner day.
Really? A toolbar distribution deal?
The elephant in the museum was, of course, Star/OpenOffice. Just three days before, Sun COO, Jonathan Schwartz, had fired up expectations in his blog with this shameless tease: "There's a resurgence of interest in resident software that executes on your desktop, yet connects to network services. Without a browser. Like Skype. Or QNext. Or Google Earth. And Java? OpenOffice and StarOffice?"
But at the event, Schmidt parried the obvious question with, "We will work to make the distribution of [OpenOffice] become broader. We are not announcing specifics."
Some speculated that Schmidt was simply doing a favour for his old pal McNealy, because anticipation of the non-announcement ran higher than that of any Sun revelation in recent memory. They must have enjoyed giving Microsoft a mild case of indigestion.
Yet, even if Google puts an OpenOffice download link on its home page, the effect on enterprise computing, at least, will be minimal. For broad business adoption of OpenOffice or StarOffice, compatibility with MS Office must be ironclad (some MS Office macros still won't run).
One thing is clear: People sense the beginning of the end of the desktop era. And the yearning for high-functioning software as a service that promises escape from endless upgrades, security patches, and exorbitant licensing costs is palpable.