Michael Robertson, founder of mp3.com, is launching a webservice called Ajaxwrite.com, which allows you to create documents in an online word processor and save them to your hard drive in Word format in the event that you need to share them with anyone who uses Microsoft Word.
In true Web 2.0 fashion, Robertson is rolling out a beta and adding new features every week for the next two months. His business model is yet to be defined. Robertson is a revolutionary. His mp3.com challenged the music industry’s fundamental business model. I heard him speak in Silicon Valley in 2000 and basically convince everyone in a skeptical audience that once you purchase music once, you should own it forever, and be able to move it from device to device and from format to format. He hated the fact that the music industry made so much money selling the same content to us multiple times (8-track, cassettes, records, CDs, mp3s) so we could listen on different devices.
His Linspire company (formerly Lindows) is trying to take on Microsoft Windows with a Linux based desktop. (I bought a $300 PC from Wal-Mart that had Lindows on it, and it didn’t do anything for me. I turned it on once and never looked at it again.) And now Ajaxwrite.com is trying to disrupt Microsoft Word and Office.
I glanced at it briefly this morning, and it doesn’t seem right yet. I know skeptics will say no one will want to use an online word processor. But, I will predict that sooner or later this approach (free online software in Ajax) will dramatically disrupt Microsoft’s software business. Microsoft will actually adopt this model as well, out of necessity. We’ll wake up one day a few years from now buying powerful $100 PCs and using free online software for most of our productivity applications. Most of our software will be subsidized by some kind of online advertising, like gmail is today.
The good news is that billions of consumers will have access to information and software that will empower them. The other good news is that software and information companies will have to add value by going up the application stack and doing new and innovative things. The bad news is that a lot of big software companies are going to suffer from this new approach and consumers will be confused for a while while new winners are chosen in the fast-moving marketplace.
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