If there's one thing Microsoft does indisputably better than any other tech company, it's being fashionably late, and Office 365 is the perfect example. Almost five years after Google Docs first arrived and two years after it finally left its long beta test, Microsoft finally introduced Office 365, Redmond's own cloud-based productivity suite. But is it too late for anyone to care?
Let's look back in the annals of tech history at a few of Microsoft's other tardy releases to see how they fared to gauge whether Office 365 has entered the game too late.
The product that has come to define Microsoft was perhaps its first and best-known example of being two years late to the party. To be fair, Windows 1.0 in late 1985 wasn't that far behind the successful January 1984 release of the Macintosh as the first graphical user interface system, especially if you consider that things didn't turn over nearly as fast back then. And it wasn't until two versions and a half-decade later, with the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990, that it really began its climb to become the OS of choice for much of the computing public.
By the time Microsoft threw its hat in the ring in the browser battles of the mid-1990s, Netscape had already established its dominance and IBM and Apple had also launched their own browsers. Yet what happened next was such a complete and total takeover of the market for a single piece of software by Microsoft that the Justice Department felt a need to get involved. Netscape disappeared into the black hole that is AOL, and Internet Explorer peaked in the early 2000s, when it was the gateway to the Web for more than 90 percent of the world.
Microsoft hasn't turned every late release into global domination. In 2001, Apple shoved the music business into the future with the first iPod. Five years later and no longer distracted by the Justice Department, Microsoft debuted the Zune. The company had its sights set on repeating the magic it made in the operating system and browser worlds by biding its time. We now know how this turned out. By many accounts, the Zune is a nice piece of hardware, but compatibility issues with Macs and the iPod's established cult following proved insurmountable.
To be fair, Microsoft has been in the mobile game for more than a decade, but much of what it released in those years has been junk. Mobile 6.5 as a serious competitor to the iPhone? Please. If Windows Phone represents Microsoft's attempt at getting serious about the smartphone market, it definitely qualifies as another instance of being late. And while I'm not betting on Redmond to turn the industry on its head as it did with Windows, some analysts say it's a strong contender.
Of course, Microsoft isn't always late. Sometimes it loses by being too early, as seems to be the case with tablets. As for Office 365, I don't know that it will change the world, but I also don't see it being the epic fail that the Zune was. It may be an instance where Google has primed the pump for cloud productivity and now Office can muscle up and become the new standard. It wouldn't be the first time.