Thursday, February 22, 2007

Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office

Miguel Helft at the NYT reports on Google Apps in his article "A Google Package Challenges Microsoft". A brief excerpt:
Google is taking aim at one of Microsoft's most lucrative franchises.

Google Apps, combines two sets of previously available software bundles. One included programs for e-mail, instant messaging, calendars and Web page creation; the other, called Docs and Spreadsheets, included programs to read and edit documents created with Microsoft Word and Excel, the mainstays of Microsoft Office, an $11 billion annual franchise.
Don Dodge thinks the threat to Microsoft is overdone:
Google Apps is missing some fundamental features ... no Powerpoint ... offline usage ... privacy and security ... Users are very demanding and have become accustomed to powerful, intuitive features in Microsoft Office.

Office Excel, Word, and Powerpoint are world class. I have tried using Google Docs and Spreadsheets and it is a frustrating experience. Obvious features that you have come to expect just aren't there.
However, Paul Kedrosky makes good points about small businesses and the low end of the market:
There is a very large group of people out there who need basic apps/sharing/scheduling/email, don't want to have IT support, and are stone-petrified at the idea of installing Exchange.

Those people are not the Excel macro-using, Exchange-expert-paying, Fortune 500s. Matter of fact, most of the latter group will predictably sniff at Google Apps as a mere toy, useless for real world work.

We can all just watch ... [as] the toy-like G Apps chews steadily away at tiny, but growing pieces of MSFT's hide.
Many people have very simple needs with an Office suite. They mostly want to be able to read documents sent to them by others. They occasionally might want to write a letter, edit a document, or add a few numbers in a spreadsheet.

Right now, those people usually buy Microsoft Office. It's just the easiest thing to do. Get Microsoft Office like everyone else and, when someone e-mails you a document, you can read it. No fighting with the dang computer. It all just works.

Now, when someone e-mails me a document, I can just open it inside GMail. Now what is the easiest thing to do? Download the document, launch MS Office, and open it? Or click a link and view it in Google Docs & Spreadsheets?

I suspect a lot of this depends on how well Google Apps handle compatability with Microsoft Office. If there are even minor issues, the "no fighting with the dang computer" will take over, and most people will install Microsoft Office just to have it for the times when they really need it.

If the easiest path becomes Google Apps -- if it all just works -- Microsoft could see the low end of the Office market fall away to the effortless laziness of a Google click.

Update: Henry Blodget writes, "Disruption begins when a dominant market leader has built so much functionality into its core products that it has begun to over-serve its core customers. Some of these customers, realizing that a simpler, cheaper product will do, gradually abandon the old technology."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have we learned nothing about disruptive technology? This is a textbook case of the incumbent ignoring it's least attractive customers, while the apparent lightweight moves steadily up the foodchain.

I guess its easy to fall prey to wishful thinking, and dismiss these "toys." This just shows Microsoft is in steady decline. We have to look at smaller players like Zoho to give Google a run for its money.

ookoi said...

I think google docs has first to be greatly improved in order to be able to compete with office, even for only reading documents. It has only limited features, the only advantages is its collaborative functionality.

MeTheGeek said...

Finally, the game is on! Google is competing with Microsoft at all levels now, and winning in the most relevant ones.

Presently should be the latest point in the competition.

jeremy said...

Is it easier for Google to catch up to Microsoft, in this space, or for Microsoft to catch up to Google?

Forget MS Office. What about MS Works? Works is essentially "Office lite". A quick search shows it selling for $42.99 on Amazon. (Not to mention the fact that it often comes free with new PCs.) With Works, you get a word processor, spreadsheet, database, calendar, and email. With undoubtedly enough features for any small business or personal use. Plus compatibility with Word and Excel!

So now, will it be easier for Google to add standalone, offline software to its Office product? Or will it be easier for Microsoft to add online support (sharing, etc.) to its Works product? And which would you want to use, esp when they both start working online and offline? While I'm not an MS fanboy, I think the allure of Word + Excel compatibility is a huge draw.

It seems that Google is not really competing with MS Office. It is competing with MS Works. And Works seems lightweight and flexible enough that it could really take on Google Office, if it wanted to.

anand kishore said...

I think the turing point for 'Google Vs Microsoft' will be when FireFox3 will be released (as it would support offline apps). So everyone with a Firefox3 would probably have a Google Office at their disposal instantly.

Anonymous said...

Mr Don Dodge is a Microsoft employee and long-time Google basher.

This guy is so biased he does not understand how simple effective tools disrupt the bloated software.

Before the Office team ships Office 14, Google can ship 14 major releases to the product, none breaking with the previous one.

What Microsoft blind people don't see is that nobody needs the endless list of MS Office features just to do their traditional work.

In fact, that era has come to an end and even the Office 2007 product line is geared towards something else : 1) server CALs (including sharepoint and other services) 2) BI features (even though many teams at Microsoft do such incompatible BI features already elsewhere).

To me, this year and next will be a spectacle to watch.

Let's not underestimate the integration of Google docs and spreadsheets with Gmail for instance. The ability to open/edit a Word or Excel document with just a web browser is a wonderful feature.

-Stephane Rodriguez

jeremy said...

What Microsoft blind people don't see is that nobody needs the endless list of MS Office features just to do their traditional work.

Yeah, I agree. So why not pit MS Works against Google Docs and Spreadsheets, instead? MS can afford to be much more nimble with Works. Works does everything that Docs and Spreadsheets does, right, except that it works offline rather than online. So all Microsoft has to do is add a "Save to Cloud" module to Works, and it will immediately be far ahead of Docs and Spreadsheets. Much easier for MS to do that, than for Google to try and use Firefox to make Docs and Spreadsheets available offline.

You write: Before the Office team ships Office 14, Google can ship 14 major releases to the product, none breaking with the previous one.

I don't understand this mindset. Who needs 14 major release updates to Docs and Spreadsheets? What needs to be updated? Are they going to add 14 generations of functionality? If that's the case, then Docs and Spreadsheets essentially turns into bloated Office.

And who is to say that the online-enabled version of MS Works couldn't or wouldn't have a "self patch" mode? I have a lot of software currently on my computer that automatically updates itself over the web...including Windows itself. Why couldn't Works be made to do the same thing, so that MS could easily issue 14 new versions to Works, too?

I am not Microsoft-blind. But I am not Google-blind, either. I have yet to see the real advantage of web-only software like this.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of disruptive technology, anyone else recall how the IBM PC was initially derided as a "toy" by the IT powers that be when it first came out?

Anonymous said...

Attribution for the quote in the article should not be to Henry Blodget, but to a Harvard professor, Clayton Christensen:

"Update: Henry Blodget writes, "Disruption begins when a dominant market leader has built so much functionality into its core products that it has begun to over-serve its core customers. Some of these customers, realizing that a simpler, cheaper product will do, gradually abandon the old technology.""