It's Time for Mobile Office Applications to Go

I have a unique perspective on the Windows Mobile world. I write for two websites, Clinton Fitch (Dot) Com! And HPC:Factor. One site is dedicated to the Windows Mobile platform while the latter is dedicated to the Handheld PC platform. From time-to-time I also get the pleasure of writing for Pocket PC and Smartphone Magazine and not many days will go by without you seeing a post from me in the Microsoft Newsgroups.

To say I'm "hooked" to these little devices would be a great understatement.

So when I suggest that it is time for Microsoft to strip out the Mobile Office applications on Windows Mobile devices, I do have a logical and well developed reason behind it. I also know the end users - and the demand is there for this seemingly illogical move by Microsoft.

When Pocket PCs and Handheld PCs first hit the market in the mid to late 90s, the typical user knew and expected there to be limitations to what could be done. The idea of even being able to edit a Word document at all was enough to satisfy most users. But this was also an era in time when laptop computers were rare and were extremely costly, cellular phones were still the size of bricks and the Internet was far from encompassing.

Fast forward to today. I'm writing this editorial on a laptop that cost me less than $1,000, I have a Smartphone to my right and a Dell x50v and Jornada 720 to my left. My cellular coverage with my Audiovox SMT5600 Smartphone is national and I spend less than $100 per month for it, my wife and daughter's cell phones - combined! The Internet is growing at the rate of 200,000 pages per day and the two websites I work for have millions of hits per week.

Yet on my Dell x50v, I still have essentially what I had in 1998 when it comes to Office applications.

In every other aspect these devices have grown substantially in just a handful of years. Most include multiple ways to store information from built-in storage that is safe when the battery dies to Secure Digital and Compact Flash cards. Some have wireless and Bluetooth connectivity and a few even offer built-in GPS.

But if I want to save the paragraph formatting I'm out of luck.

Now to be fair, there are substantial improvements to the Mobile Office suite in Windows Mobile 5. Charts, tables and other important features are now a part of the applications as well as format saving. But the limitations are still painful, especially when it comes to formulas in Mobile Excel and templates in all of the applications.

So instead of building yet another update to Mobile Office applications when Windows Mobile 6 is released, why not strip it out completely?

Microsoft and the mobile device community at large would be far better served if these applications simply disappeared out of the ROM images of the devices. Instead, focus resources on building a true Mobile Office suite that is comparable in features and functionality as the desktop version.

The most obviously objection to this is storage space. Why strip out a suite of applications then fill up storage space with what will unquestionably be bigger applications? Simple: Storage is cheap. In chatting online or via email with most Windows Mobile users today, almost all of them have at least 1GB of storage external to their device itself. Given the naturally small footprint of Windows Mobile, even if a complete suite of Office for Mobile users were developed (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook), it would still be only a few hundred megabytes at worst and likely much smaller. The typical Windows Mobile user will give up the storage for the functionality and features of a "real" Office suite on their mobile device.

Today's mobile user is much different than the ones in the late 90s. No longer are limitations accepted. The proof is in the countless applications that have been developed by companies for these devices (PhatWare, WebIS and SoftMaker come to mind). Users are constantly looking to be more "like the desktop" on their devices.

If Microsoft were to put forth a true Mobile Office Suite, it would be a real answer to a real problem for many. Yes it would create competition for developers who often are struggling to survive. But a Microsoft Office Suite would provide continuity between the "mobile" and "fixed" worlds and would force all of the products to improve. Competition in a free market is never a bad thing.

Is this a possibility? Only Microsoft knows the answer to that question. As one who is deeply involved in the Windows Mobile community, I can only hope.

With the Mobile Office Suite now solved, let us turn our attention to Pocket Internet Explorer…


Clinton Fitch
Chief Reviews Editor

Want to have Your say about It's Time for Mobile Office Applications to Go?

Visit the Forums for a discussion thread.