Office software will go way of web

3 Sep 2007

Jason Fried, owner of Chicago-based web applications company 37signals predicts an eventual move away from desktop applications to the internet.

This move seems entirely possible in the light of the recent uptake of online office suites like Google Apps, Zoho Office and 37signals’ own suite of web-based productivity tools.

“As time goes on I think that there will be slowly more and more things that will transition into web-based or just internet-based just because they make more sense that way,” says Fried.

“The nice thing about web-based applications is that they are centralised so everyone can see information together online at the one place instead of having to have separate bits of information on different desktops.”

Fried explains that being online allows workers to keep information up to date because everyone knows what the latest information is without having to ask around the office.

The BaseCamp tool from 37signals is designed for collaboration and project management, and was called “addictively easy to use” by Business Week, with the company itself being hailed as “one of the net’s rising stars” by Time magazine.

“As far as workflow goes I think it reduces the amount of potential confusion that happens with version tracking when everyone has their own unique version of something,” he says.

“The ability is to get to anything you’re working on from anywhere. If you’re not in the office you can use anyone’s laptop to get to your information.”

However Fried thinks that there are a lot of things that are inherently good about the desktop but when you are involving multiple people working on the same thing, a web-based application is often better because it is centralised.

He considers the fact that some businesses don’t yet trust the idea of centralised online data, but adds that the companies that work with 37signals can’t imagine working any other way.

“It suits small and medium sized businesses better mainly because a lot of SMEs don’t have an IT department or IT staff and don’t want to worry about it, they just want to get stuff done,” he points out.

“Installing and maintaining software isn’t something that a mom and pop business, or a business of three or four people wants to worry about, they just want to use something to work.”

37signals stands by its web-based applications because everything that it builds, says Fried, is built for the company itself first.

The small eight-person company is headquartered in Chicago but has employees remotely working from across the States, a situation that tests every aspect of the applications.

He does not think the traditional desktop software is dead: “I think there is a huge place for desktop apps and will be for a long time.

However he says that traditionally the business office suite has been word processors, spreadsheets and presentation tools.

“I think that the modern office is more about collaboration between people and not just entering information into a grid.

Although many companies are still reluctant to make the leap to online applications Fried says don’t be too quick to judge.

“It’s almost like that Bob Dylan lyric: don’t criticize what you don’t understand.”

By Marie Boran