Thin may be coming into vogue for client software, but Microsoft is bucking the trend as it fattens up Microsoft Office.
Microsoft's "more is better" strategy has made Office the suite leader with 90% market share. But some users and analysts say Office 97, due out by the end of the year with new Internet features and workgroup functionality, is bloated.
"Microsoft is doing a great job of adding value to Office, but it is at risk of losing market share if it continues to develop a fat client," says Eric Brown, an analyst at Forrester Research, a market research firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"It is not focusing on the emerging Internet client. Office 97 is Microsoft's last turn at the wheel to dominate the desktop. Suite products will start to look very different as the desktop environment changes," he says.
For example, rival Corel is readying a Java-based suite of trimmed-down applications that is slated to be delivered by year's end.
"Corel's strategy is not going to skyrocket it to the top this year or next, but it clearly gets it ahead of the curve," Brown says. "The idea of not having to install desktop software is a good one."
"Office has turned into a pig," says an information systems manager at a large West Coast manufacturing company. "We are looking at ways to trim back applications."
But one Office user says the all-things-to-everybody approach makes him feel secure.
"Office is getting huge, but it doesn't bother me that there are portions of the products we don't use. I like the security of knowing there are features that, even if I don't use them today, they will be there tomorrow if I need them," says John Mooney, owner of The Positive Image, a graphics and photography company in Houston.
"The skinny client idea may be useful to some limited niches of users, but for the broad community, there is always someone or another within a large company that wants every function," says Michael Packer, executive vice-president of technology systems and operations at Simon & Schuster, a New York-based publishing house that has more than 6000 Office users.
"And it is not economically feasible to split up the functionality into separate packages. A lot of the discussion about the super-thin office-type applications is unrealistic today," he says.
Microsoft officials say they don't plan to put Office on a diet.
"We don't plan to offer a `lite' version of Office because we don't have that strategy that less functionality is really solving the problem," says Michael Graff, Office group product manager. He says Microsoft will also continue to add functionality to Office via ActiveX controls and components.
Office 97 will pack more functionality into the suite by including World Wide Web-related document- management features and Outlook, a new desktop information management application.